Kirkwood/Icebox Granted Liquor License
The Carbondale city council, acting in its capacity as the liquor control commission, granted Kevin Kirkwood a class A-2 liquor license for his Icebox Bar and Grill at last night’s meeting. The license was controversial because a party held last year at the former Spotlight Grill, which operated at the same address, ended in a fight in which a Carbondale resident was murdered.
I expected the council to deny the liquor license, and at the beginning of the meeting I thought they should deny it. This is pure speculation, but I’d bet that the council members themselves began the meeting thinking they should and would deny the license.
After Kirkwood responded to numerous questions from council members, especially newcomers Don Monty and Jane Adams, and after a parade of character witnesses on Kirkwood’s behalf, I changed my mind. It seems like Kirkwood has been a good neighbor since he’s been running the Icebox, and I think the city is keeping a lid on the after hours parties.
As usual, I watched Tuesday’s city council meeting from home on channel 16. Aside from the Kirkwood/Icebox issue, a few other things stood out as significant: Fritzler’s decision to move citizen’s comments to the end of the meetings, the tension between Fritzler and Lance Jack, the results of the rezoning and site plan approval requests, and the unusually large number of points of order called at the meeting. I’ll talk briefly about each.
Citizens’ Comments: At the beginning of the meeting, Fritzler announced his intention to move citizens’ comments to the end of city council meetings. Citizens’ comments were formerly taken at the end of meetings. First, I think this was an unexpected use of power by Fritzler. I think everyone who voted for him expected him to be a weak mayor, although not all of us liked that. He had carved out a niche as the anti-Cole on the city council.
That’s why it was such a surprise to see him use power this way. When Lance Jack questioned his reasoning on the decision, Fritzler twice said something like: people can stay for the whole meeting and participate and then make their comments (paraphrased). It seemed to me that it irks Fritzler that people show up for citizen’s comments, make their comment (which is usually a complaint), and then leave. He’s going to force them to sit through the entire meeting before they complain.
I’m impressed with the use of power, but I oppose his decision. Joel Fritzler’s role as mayor does not extend to dictating the terms of people’s participation. Some people have other commitments. They either can’t devote an entire evening to city business, most of which they don’t know or care about, or they choose not to. That’s why we have representative democracy instead of direct democracy.
A representative democracy provides diverse opportunities to participate. Citizens can vote, they can volunteer on campaigns, they can communicate with their representatives in public or in private, or they can run for office themselves. The point of citizens’ comments is to allow an opportunity for citizens to communicate in public with their elected representatives. We should not create unnecessary obstacles.
Fritzler said he’s trying this for a few weeks. Let’s hope he voluntarily discontinues the practice. If he chooses to continue it, the rest of the council should overrule him and move citizens’ comments back to the beginning of the meeting.
Fritzler/Jack Tension: This erupted twice. At the beginning of the meeting Fritzler became defensive when Jack questioned the wisdom of moving citizens’ comments to the end of meetings. Jack stuck to his guns and there was a bit of tension. The more serious tension arose on the subject of nominations.
The mayor and council appoint members and representatives to a number of boards and committees. Since his election in 2003, Jack has served as the city’s ex officio member of the Carbondale Main Street board. Fritzler, who helped drive Jack off the council last year (see here and here), decided to appoint Jane Adams instead of Jack.
Jack asked that the nominations be removed from the consent agenda and held for discussion. Jack said that he has informed Mayor Fritzler of his desire to continue as the city’s Main Street representative and that he’s repeatedly asked Fritzler why he isn’t being reappointed. Jack claimed that Fritzler hasn’t given a clear answer.
Fritzler, visibly annoyed, confirmed that Jack had asked him about the appointment and said that he had explained to Jack that he had the right to make the choice. A tense exchange followed in which the two were very nearly shouting at one another.
I sympathize with Jack, but I think Fritzler is right. Elections have consequences. Fritzler won the last election, and to the victor go the spoils. Fritzler can appoint whoever he wants to serve on the Main Street board. Jack was entitled to ask for a reason, but Fritzler wasn’t required to give one.
I have repeatedly expressed disapproval of attempts to harass Jack off the council. If the new council decides to hold his Fat Patties liquor license hostage to try to again force Jack to resign, I’ll oppose that. But I don’t think declining to reappoint Jack to the Main Street board qualifies as harassment.
Rezoning/Site Plan Approval Requests: There were three of these, and I think the council took the right action on all of them. None were extremely important in themselves (the Goodwill site plan was the most important of the three), but they had important symbolic value. We have a new council and Tuesday’s votes signaled that council will approach these things pragmatically. That’s good for Carbondale.
Points of Order: I lost count, but there were at least a dozen, and probably closer to two dozen, points of order called during the meeting. The main job of Carbondale’s mayor is running city council meetings, and Fritzler had a tough time accomplishing it.
I don’t want to beat up on Fritzler, and I don’t think this is too big a deal. It was his first “real” meeting as mayor – the first meeting was mainly ceremonial. Fritzler probably just had first day jitters.
Still, Fritzler is going to have to learn to run a meeting. One of former mayor Brad Cole’s most valuable contributions was his efficient administration of council meetings. The early jitters are fine, but Fritzler’s going to have to get up to speed pretty quickly.
Comments are welcome.
UPDATED: After I wrote this, but before I posted it, I saw on the Carbondaze Gazette blog that Lee Fronabarger has been appointed to fill Joel Fritzler’s old seat. I’ll have more to say on this sometime this week.