City Council Meeting 04/03/2012
I watched last night’s city council meeting from home on Mediacom channel 16. This is the third meeting in a row with a short agenda. This time there were two items on the general business agenda: consideration of an ordinance establishing a fine for camping on city property and a discussion of the FY 13 budget and the Five Year Community Investment Program. There were also five items on the consent agenda, all of which were approved unanimously.
Item 5.1 on the general business agenda would have established a fine for camping or lodging on city controlled property. You could call it the Occupy Ordinance, as it is undoubtedly aimed at preventing members of the Occupy movement from establishing an encampment on city property. When the ordinance came up, it seemed for a moment that it might not get a motion to approve it. Finally council member Lee Fronabarger made the motion and then there was another longish silence while council waited for a second, ultimately provided by council member Corene McDaniel.
After the motion received a second, discussion opened. It quickly became apparent that council had problems with the ordinance as written. Council member Don Monty asked why the city needs such an ordinance and asked for a plain-English explanation of the term “city controlled” property. The City Attorney explained that city controlled property is property owned or leased by the city and property turned over to city control by its owner. The City Manager said the ordinance is needed because camping on city property is not currently illegal and there is concern that someone might decide to camp on city property.
Council member Chris Wissmann expressed concern that the ordinance might solve a problem that doesn’t yet exist and pointed out that attempts to expel Occupy protesters in New York sparked similar protests in cities around the country. Wissmann also expressed concern that the city protect legitimate rights of political speech and the right to protest.
Council member Jane Adams asked if the ordinance would prohibit camping in the city-owned land surrounding Cedar Lake. Adams also expressed concern that the ordinance as written could limit free speech and expression.
Mayor Joel Fritzler defended the ordinance, saying it is intended to prevent people from taking over public space that is meant tor everyone. After council members Lee Fronabarger and Lance Jack expressed concerns about the ordinance, it was tabled and sent back to staff for a rewrite.
I think the council did the right thing in delaying the ordinance. I agree with the Occupy movement that income inequality is a major problem in this country, and I think public policy can and should blunt inequality. But I find it difficult to see how camping on the town square helps address the situation. The delay and rewrite allows council to avoid accidentally including Cedar Lake in the ordinance and could allow a process for issuing permits for temporary encampments on public property.
The other item on the general business agenda was a discussion of the FY 13 budget and the Five Year Community Investment Program. This was just a discussion; no action was taken. The discussion was shorter than in previous years because council members had submitted written questions to staff in advance and staff had provided written answers.
Mayor Fritzler pointed out that the city will again hire a person to operate the street sweeper. Fritzler also pointed out that the city’s emergency management staff will be moving from city hall to the new fire station on the west side of town. Fritzler said the move would be an improvement because it would allow emergency management staff to remain at their posts if a train derailed and spilled toxic substances, causing city hall to evacuate.
Council member Chris Wissmann pointed out the growth in employee health care, pension, and worker’s compensation costs – and that these costs are mostly out of the city’s control. Council member Jane Adams offered a reminder that the Saluki Way tax was supposed to contain funds for green space development and urged that funds be directed to that purpose as soon as possible. Council member Don Monty urged the public to take a look at the Community Investment Program and the long list of projects that the city would like to do but lacks funding for.
The Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau did come up a few times at the meeting. Two citizens commented on the ongoing controversy and urged action. Council remained mostly silent, as expected, but council member Don Monty did make two brief comments.
In his first comment, Monty said that the CCTB bylaws allow the CCTB board to appoint its own members and that 15 members was a minimum for the board, not a maximum. Monty also said that when he’s been appointed to boards and commissions, he’s felt that his duty is to act in the best interests of that organization, not his own best interests or those of the organization that appointed him.
In his second comment, Monty mentioned that the city’s contract with CCTB will be different this time, and that CCTB will have to decide if it can live with the new contract. He did not specify what changes might appear in this year’s contract.
My own opinion is that it has become necessary for council to rein in CCTB. An organization that is dependent on city money should have to serve the city’s needs and be subject to city control. At a minimum, I think the city should continue to appoint a majority of the board. Ideally, our board strength should be proportionate to the share of the organization’s budget that comes from the city. If we fund sixty, seventy, or eighty percent, we should control that portion of the board seats. We’ll see what solution council comes up with.
Comments are welcome.