Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Step Towards More Openness And Other Highlights From 1/16

One of the more interesting developments from Wednesday's City Council meeting caught me by surprise but could become a great step towards improving the way the council operates.

To really understand what happened and why it's important, we need to take a step back a couple of hours. At 6 pm Wednesday night the Board of Public Works met in Committee Room 6D met at City Hall to discuss (among other things) two pretty notable items of business:
  • A resolution proposed by Aldermen Clemons and Croatt asking the city finance department to once again review the interest rate for deferred payments on special assessments. The resolution passed the committee 11-0.
  • Approval of three contracts relating to work to construct underground stormwater storage under the parking lot at East High School. The three items, tied together, passed by a 9-2 vote.
If you've ever been in Committee Room 6D, you know it's not a large space. The eleven members of the committee plus 14 observers created an overflow crowd that led to people standing around the table on two sides (sorry if I was breathing on you, Alderman Baranowski) and other Aldermen literally standing on their tiptoes to see around each other from outside the door. The meeting was technically open, but access was definitely limited.

With that said, this meeting adjourned at 6:54 pm and all six action items passed immediately went onto the agenda of the full council, at a meeting scheduled to begin six minutes later.

This is problematic for several reasons:
  • Having items like this placed on the council agenda on very short notice makes it nearly impossible for the members of the council who aren't on this committee to review what happened and be prepared to cast an informed vote when the issue comes before the full body.
  • Having items go from being committee agenda fodder to passed by the full council in a single evening has a significant negative impact on the public's ability to participate in the process.
  • Admittedly least importantly, updating the council agenda to add these late items delayed the start of the full council meeting significantly.
Unfortunately, this is relatively common procedure for the council. There's been at least one committee meeting in the 6 pm hour before each of the last three common council meetings. This will happen again next week as at least one committee (Municipal Services) is scheduled to meet before the Wednesday, January 23 meeting.

Thankfully, near the end of Wednesday's meeting Alderman Christoph Wahl submitted the following resolution:
“Be it resolved, that the Common Council may not consider or adopt reports of Committees, Boards or Commissions until same reports have been properly posted for 48 hours or an emergency has been declared.”
Having this rule in place would eliminate most of the problems listed above, so I hope the council will enact it as soon as possible. The resolution was handed over to the City Attorney's office for review, and I'll keep you posted regarding where it goes from there.

Updating you on the notes I mentioned last week:
  • Phase 1 of the Stormwater Abatement Plan for East High School (with likely ramifications for Lions Park) required a two-thirds majority and narrowly received it, passing by an 11-5 margin.
  • The proposed zoning change allowing the Hardees at 441 and Ballard Rd to be torn down and replaced by a restaurant/gas station passed 16-0.
  • The council voted 15-1 to allow the purchase of 25,250 new recycling carts at a cost of $1,237,502.50.
  • A proposed 0% pay raise for aldermen has been referred back to the Human Resources Committee.
  • The proposal to install sidewalks all the way around Vosters Park as shown in "Plan B" of the previous proposals passed 16-0.
Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as a candidate for and a potential member of Appleton's City Council. There's a lot going on and a lot of information out there, but I'm happy to do everything I can to make these decisions and the discussions around them as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested. 

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