Monday, December 1, 2014

What you may not know: Week of December 1

Most of the Appleton Common Council's committee meetings were canceled last week due to Thanksgiving, but what would otherwise have been a pretty quiet scheduled council meeting on Wednesday night could now have one big headline:

Exhibition Center land purchase

Negotiations and discussions continue regarding a proposal to build an Exhibition Center adjacent to the Radisson Paper Valley hotel downtown, and those plans could take a big step forward on Wednesday night as council will be asked to approve an agreement to purchase the site of the proposed facility from Outagamie County.

This item is one step in the process and, even if approved, a lot of hurdles remain for the project. No work could begin until or unless the city reaches an agreement with the hotel's new owners (it's scheduled to go up for auction on Wednesday) on a lease for the space.

I've been away for several days on a family matter and haven't had a chance to review all of the memos and paperwork we've received on Wednesday's action item, so I'm not ready to make any definitive statement on whether or not I support moving forward this way. I will say, however, that I continue to have grave concerns about the risk the city is taking if we end up owning this building.

Organizational meeting

Before Wednesday's regularly scheduled meeting the council will come together for an organizational meeting to discuss our council rules and make any needed changes to our operations going forward. Any alderperson can propose a rule change on the floor at this meeting, but several of my colleagues and I have pre-submitted two proposals for consideration.

The first deals with our procedure regarding action items that are referred back to their committee of jurisdiction for further review. Frequently when we consider controversial or high profile items an alderperson elects to send the item back to committee for a second look before council takes an official action. Any single alderperson can request an item be referred back at council.

This creates a situation, however, where we sometimes waste a significant amount of our constituents' time. It's not unusual for high profile items to draw a significant number of public speakers who take time out of their schedules to come address us and are disappointed when no official action is taken and they're asked to come back later. Four of us have co-submitted a resolution calling for this process to change in the following ways:
  1. If an alderperson wishes to use their automatic refer-back to send an item back to its committee of jurisdiction, they must announce that intention by the end of the day on the Monday preceding a council meeting.
  2. If an alderperson wishes to refer an item back on the council floor, they must make a motion to do so and council must vote to approve that motion.
The first clause above will hopefully allow alderpersons to reach out to potentially interested constituents to alert them of the change and save them the time of coming to a meeting for a vote that won't happen. The second clause will still allow for refer backs to be used if needed, but raises the bar for doing so. I think this resolution gives us an opportunity to be more respectful of the time of everyone involved.

Our second resolution, co-submitted by five of us, is in regard to voting procedure. State statute requires that any action item must receive votes from a majority of the council to pass, which in our case is eight votes from our 15 members. We're still required to have eight votes to pass an item, however, even if all 15 members are not present.

This creates a couple of fairness challenges, including one that has come up a couple of times during my tenure on the council. We had a vote earlier this year where the action item failed to pass largely because a couple of council members were absent. Seven alderpersons voted to approve the item and six voted to deny, so the item failed despite a majority of the council neither approving nor denying the item.

Our proposed rule change allows council to delay action in cases like this to allow the body to act more definitively at a later date. Any item that does not receive a majority vote to either approve or deny would be held until our next meeting, with the hope that a larger attendance will allow council to make a clear decision to approve or deny.

Update on an item from last week:

In my post a week ago I mentioned a resolution I had proposed calling for the city to review its zoning code regarding lights on gas station canopies. That item passed unanimously at the City Plan Commission last Monday and will appear before the council on Wednesday.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

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