City Council Meeting 08/21/2012
The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on August 21, 2012. As usual, I watched from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.
After roll call and announcements and proclamations, council passed most of the consent agenda unanimously. Council member Lee Fronabarger requested that Item 4.4 (pdf), which conditionally awarded contracts for the new water storage facility, be pulled from the agenda so he could highlight the fact that a local contractor won the bidding for the water main extension. Council then passed the item unanimously.
Council member Corene McDaniel asked that Item 4.5 (pdf), which authorized the city manager to sell a small piece of surplus property, be pulled so she could reveal that the purchaser is her sister-in-law and that she would not vote on the item. Council then passed the item unanimously (with the exception of McDaniel, who voted present). Council then moved on to the general business agenda.
Item 5.1 (pdf), a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract with the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) passed unanimously after some discussion by council. Council member Jane Adams stated her preference that CCTB be contractually obligated to follow the same open meetings and ethics standards that the city council must follow, and strongly urged that the city take ownership of the web domain CCTB uses. Mayor Joel Fritzler countered that the city doesn’t own the domain names of any of the other organizations to which it provides funding.
Council member Lee Fronabarger suggested that CCTB change its name to the Carbondale Visitors Bureau, a suggestion which council member Adams has supported in the past. Council member Chris Wissmann said a name change would be a good idea, but said that name changes are expensive and pointed to the existing stationary and the awning on the CCTB building as items that would need to be replaced in the event of a name change. Mayor Fritzler also argued against a name change.
My two cents: Adams and Fronabarger are right on the name change issue. The CCTB name is toxic. If we’re starting over, then let’s make it a clean start. Adams is also right that the city should own the domain names CCTB uses. Fritzler’s point about the city not owning, say, the Women’s Center’s domain name is irrelevant. The city provides almost the entire CCTB budget (at least it has in the past; this year is an exception), while the city provides only a small portion of the budgets of other community organizations.
Item 5.2 (pdf), an ordinance legalizing video “gaming” (gambling) in Carbondale, passed 5-2, with Mayor Fritzler and council member McDaniel voting against the ordinance. This ordinance will allow Carbondale liquor license holders to participate in the state’s new video gambling system, provided they operate according to state guidelines.
Before the vote on the ordinance, council member Chris Wissmann proposed an amendment to require establishments to post a sign designed and provided by the city providing information on where problem gamblers can get help. Wissmann’s amendment passed 6-2, with only council member Corene McDaniel opposed. Several members of the Carbondale Elks were in attendance and spoke in favor of the ordinance and the audience erupted with applause when it passed.
My thoughts: I find it annoying that the gambling industry has rebranded gambling as “gaming.” Tetris is gaming. Video poker played for real money is gambling. That said, I support legal gambling. I think we should regulate “vices” rather than prohibit them. Conduct by consenting adults that does not harm nonconsenting others should not be prohibited, even if it harms people who willingly participate in the conduct. We should instead use regulation to achieve harm reduction.
Item 5.3 (pdf), an ordinance amending the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to water and sewer fees and agreements, finally passed unanimously after approval of one amendment. This item has been before council several times and each time has been sent back to staff for changes. This time, council member Jane Adams proposed an amendment changing the length of time a water customer must wait for the refund of his or her water to five years from the eight proposed by staff. The amendment passed 6-1, with only Mayor Fritzler opposed.
The ordinance increased the reconnect fee for people whose water has been shut off for delinquency to $40 from $20. It also increased the waiting period for a deposit refund to 5 years from 2 (staff had proposed 8 years, but Adams’ amendment reduced this). Service deposits may now be transferred to a new address, provided the customer meets certain requirements. These all seem like good changes.
Item 5.4 (pdf), a resolution concerning the feasibility study for the proposed downtown TIF and related matters, passed unanimously (aside from Lance Jack, who abstained) and with no comment from council. City Manager Baity did mention an important discovery the city has made during study of this TIF district. It turns out that no city council member can own property or a business within a TIF district, and no council member can buy property within a TIF district.
This means that the building housing Fat Patties, the restaurant owned by council member Lance Jack, will have to be carved out of the TIF district – Baity compared it to a doughnut hole. Even though that business will not be included in the TIF district, the law still prohibits Jack from voting on TIF matters. Jack abstained from this vote and announced that he will abstain from all future votes on this TIF district.
This is a state requirement and the city isn’t responsible for these restrictions, but they seem a little too strict. To me, it would be sufficient to carve out property or businesses owned by council members and then allow those members to vote on the TIF district that excludes their property. I suppose with the long history of corruption in Illinois, the legislature felt that additional protections were necessary.
I’ve written about the proposed downtown TIF twice before (one, two) and I’ve been working (very slowly) on two posts about what a downtown should and should not look like (yes, I know they’re late). My stance on the TIF hasn’t changed, so I’ll quote myself:
I need to see more before I can decide whether I support a downtown TIF. Specifically, I’ll need to see design standards for new buildings and the incorporation of mixed uses before I can support this idea. If we’re going to bulldoze Illinois Avenue and build a series of single-story, single-use strip malls with parking lots between the buildings and the street, then I’m against the plan. If we’re going to build two, three, or four story mixed use buildings with commercial uses on the ground floor and apartments or offices on upper floors and with parking in garages or behind buildings, then I’m enthusiastically in favor of a downtown TIF.
I’ll add to that that if it were up to me, we’d expand the district just slightly so it would include the parcels adjoining University Avenue on the west side of the street. The current map only includes properties on the east side of University, with the exception of a few parcels between Main and Walnut. That’s a personal preference and a minor item, though, and it wouldn’t stop me from supporting a downtown TIF. Plans to replace downtown with the kind of strip mall sprawl developments we see on the east and west sides of town would be a deal breaker for me and should be for the council as well.
After citizens comments and questions and council comments, the council meeting adjourned at 9:21 p.m.
Comments are welcome.