The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council Meeting 10/09/2012

with 3 comments

The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 9, 2012. As usual, I watched the meeting from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, the City Manager announced that the new Carbondale website is now live. I had noticed a few minutes earlier when I visited to open the agenda. I’m undecided on whether I like the new website or not. I’ll check it out over the next few days, but I can already point to one area that I love.

The new website has an entire page devoted to maps. Click the link and check them out – there are almost thirty maps showing traffic, future land use, reinvestment areas, and conceptual neighborhoods, among many others. This is a great resource. I’d like to see a map showing exactly which residential parcels are rentals and which are owner-occupied. That should be easy to generate, as the city already has information on rentals for the housing inspection program.

After the special report on the city’s new website, council moved on to the consent agenda. Council member Don Monty pulled item 4.8 from the consent agenda. The rest of the consent agenda passed unanimously and without discussion.

Item 4.8 (pdf), a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute an engineering agreement for the sanitary sewer inflow and infiltration study, was the subject of nearly twenty minutes of discussion. Council member Don Monty questioned the cost of the study and asked why the contract wasn’t bid. In addition to the answers provided by city staff, council member Chris Wissmann pointed out that professional services frequently aren’t bid because competence is more important than price. After the discussion, the item passed unanimously.

After finishing with the consent agenda, council moved on to the general business agenda.

Item 5.1 (pdf) was a resolution approving the final BPL development plan for the new fire station planned for 401 N. Glenview. The agenda item linked at the beginning of this paragraph contains a map showing the location of the proposed fire station and a simplified site plan showing how the building and parking will be placed on the lot. It’s what you’d imagine – large setbacks, tons of parking, and the standard “green space.” The link doesn’t contain a rendering of the building, but a preliminary drawing was shown at the meeting and the building is what you’d expect – a moderately unattractive building that will be no more offensive than what surrounds it.

Council member Don Monty asked that some language be changed by amendment and his amendment was approved unanimously. The language was technical in nature and not relevant to this post. There followed a somewhat lengthy and occasionally heated discussion of sustainability in city buildings. Council member Lance Jack was the main voice pushing for sustainability. This is a topic I’m passionate about so I’ll comment briefly, but first I’ll explain what happened a little more thoroughly.

Jack first asked whether sustainability and total cost of ownership had been taken into account in the design of the building and specifically mentioned windows that open, solar panels, and geothermal heating and cooling as examples. The answer provided by staff was that they “went through those motions” but ultimately decided sustainability is too expensive. Jack then expressed his frustration that council continues to favor sustainability in design of public buildings and yet those elements are never included in the final plans for city buildings.

This discussion went on for some time, with Mayor Joel Fritzler trying to cut Jack off (which Fritzler seems to enjoy doing), and with council members Don Monty, Jane Adams, and Chris Wissmann each offering support for sustainable buildings. Even Fritzler ultimately came around to the idea that our public buildings should use green technology. It looks like council will get a few options to consider when before the final architectural plans are made and council will have the opportunity to decide whether it is worthwhile to spend the extra money for sustainability.

I’m in favor of incorporating green technology into our public buildings, and I appreciate council member Jack pushing so hard for positive change in the city’s building practices. But then I look at the site plan and the wasteful use of land, and (to borrow a phrase from a great film) the use of green technology seems like putting a silk hat on a pig. We get excited about solar panels and geothermal because they offer us the false promise that we can improve the environment without having to make major changes to the way we use energy and the way we build our communities.

I think we should use the green technology that is available (after all, a pig with a silk hat is better than one without), but we should also change the way we use our land. There is no reason that the fire station needs to be on such a huge lot. There is no reason we need such large setbacks. It’s wasteful. I’ve argued this point before and I’m not going to go through the full argument here, but I do want to draw attention to increased density as one of the most important things we can do to build a more sustainable community. Don’t be fooled by promises of fragmented “green space” on each lot. Demand density and demand contiguous, useful, public green space along with it.

After the amendment and after the discussion of sustainability, the resolution passed unanimously.

Item 5.2 (pdf) was an ordinance changing the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to the sale and transfer of real estate. This one bears some explanation. Back in early 2011, the council approved an ordinance allowing the mayor, on his or her own initiative, to sell or give away city owned land that is (1) not useful for city purposes, (2) located within the city limits and zoned for residential use, (3) cost the city less than $1000, and (4) will be used within 18 months for the construction of one or two family housing. Item 5.2 repealed that ordinance, meaning all sales of city owned property, no matter how minor, will have to go before the city council.

This strikes me as silly and unnecessary, but also as not very important. The City Manager reported that only one gift of four parcels has been transferred under the ordinance, so it isn’t going to make a big difference either way. But it hints at a pathological trait I’ve noticed in the public in Carbondale, so I’ll go ahead and comment on it despite the fact that it is entirely trivial.

The pathological trait I’m talking about is deep paranoia about city government. I have talked to many people who honestly believe that the city government is a den of bribery and graft. This is inexplicable to me. I think the root of the problem is that people conflate two separate categories: “things I don’t like,” and “things that are corrupt.” For these people, anything that falls into the “things I don’t like” category by definition also falls into the “things that are corrupt” category. That this is folly should be self evident, but unfortunately it isn’t.

Apply that trait to the matter at hand. We’re talking about parcels of land valued at less than $1000. That’s small potatoes even in a town in which everything is small potatoes. But if you don’t like a particular sale, and you believe that everything you don’t like is corrupt, you don’t want it going through without a public hearing. That at least gives you the opportunity to go down to city hall and shout and complain and generally be a nuisance. You may be getting shafted by corrupt officials, but at least you get the opportunity to give them hell and they have to sit there and listen to it.

Take away the presumption of corruption and it no longer makes sense to put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of disposing of the city’s unneeded and unwanted property. In this case, it isn’t that big a deal. Council will surely transfer the same lots at the same price (maybe even zero dollars) that the mayor would have. Sure, there will be a delay, but that isn’t likely to have too many negative consequences. But apply this reasoning to bigger matters and you’ll see that it is a major factor undermining positive change in Carbondale.

When you believe that everyone in city government is on the take, you become fearful and suspicious of any change. You become conservative in the most basic sense of the word – a defender of the status quo, whether it is good, bad, or disastrous. The reflexive opposition to change surely inhibits people from proposing changes that would improve the city. While the world changes around us, we fight increasingly desperately against any change. We can see the effects of that when we look at the poor shape our community is in.

I don’t bring this up in the hope that it will change anyone’s mind. You can’t reason with deluded people. I bring it up only to offer an explanation of Carbondale’s culture for people who don’t understand why a supposedly progressive town is so resistant to change. The pathological paranoia of many of Carbondale’s permanent residents explains why it is so difficult to make progressive change in this community, and it is the reason we continue to decline.

After very brief discussion, Item 5.2 passed 5-2, with council members Chris Wissmann and Corene McDaniel opposed.

That concluded the general business agenda and council moved on to citizen comments and questions. This time none of the regulars offered comments, but there was one odd complaint about the lack of an entrance from the interior of University Mall to the new Ross store.

Council comments were also brief. The highlight was two challenges to council from Mayor Fritzler. The mayor challenged council members to go on late-night ride-alongs with the police during the weekends and he also challenged council members to visit West Schwartz street west of Oakland, which is notorious as the worst street in Carbondale. It looks like Fritzler wants to reconstruct that street at a roughly estimated cost of $673,000.

Council adjourned at 8:35 p.m.

Comments are welcome.

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3 Responses

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  1. Thanks again for your thorough reporting and insightful analysis. Please keep fighting for reasonable development density. I was so sad to see the Stadium Grille go in just down the street from my place (Little River Research); and even more upset when I found out the City helped fund that monstrosity. And regarding the perception of graft, I think the awful machine Brad Cole ran — maybe or maybe not techincally corrupt, but certainly full of inside dealings, favoritism, bullying, and the appearance of impropriety — has led lots of people to get that impression. I have plenty of personal experience with all those things from him. Glad to see him gone.

    Steve Gough

    October 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    • Steve Gough – Thanks! Density is a tough sell, but I’m trying to make the case for it. Done poorly, density can be a disaster. But done right, density makes a place more lively, reduces the carbon footprint, and improves the health of the people. I love solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling, but they should be used in addition to, rather than in place of, more efficient use of our land.

      I think you’re right about the source of some of the cynicism in Carbondale. And it’s not just our former mayor. I’ve heard stories from before I was in Carbondale about some of our past officials (one city manager in particular sounds like he ruled Carbondale like a king).

      I’ve criticized Joel Fritzler on a number of occasions, but I will say this for him: no fair observer would call him corrupt. That’s a good thing. I think the same can be said of our entire city council, most of whom I’ve disagreed with on one thing or another. We’ve got a good council right now and that’s part of the reason I get so frustrated with the continuing cynicism.

      One other thing is worth noting. For many people who have been in Carbondale for thirty years or so, almost every change they’ve witnessed has been for the worse. Slumlords have decimated our housing stock, the old downtown has nearly been ruined, and our historic buildings have been torn down without remorse. I can understand people’s resistance to change. I still oppose it, but I can see where people are coming from.

      Thanks again for the comment!

      The Carbondale Observer

      October 10, 2012 at 7:49 pm

  2. […] wrote this post because it relates to an argument I made recently. In Wednesday’s post on the city council meeting, I decried what I see as unwarranted cynicism and pessimism toward the […]


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