The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Posts Tagged ‘Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau

City Council Meeting 05/21/2013

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I listened to the live stream of the May 25, 2013 city council meeting. It was one of the shortest meetings I can recall, running just one hour and thirty-eight minutes, excluding the closed session. Not much of note happened, but a brief summary and comments are below. The agenda is available on the city’s website.

Before the meeting got started, Mayor Joel Fritzler announced that citizen comments and questions would be moved to the beginning of the meeting, becoming Item 3 on the agenda. That move resulted in the numbers of other agenda items being changed. There were no citizen comments and questions.

Council then turned to the consent agenda. Council member Jane Adams requested that Item 5.5 (formerly 4.5) be pulled for discussion, and council member Don Monty requested that item 5.8 (formerly 4.8) be pulled for discussion. The remainder of the consent agenda passed unanimously.

Council then discussed Item 5.5 (formerly 4.5), appointments to boards and commissions. Council member Adams was concerned with the appointment of former council member Chris Wissmann to the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) board of directors. Adams suggested that a sitting city council member should be appointed to that seat, since no council member currently sits on the CCTB board.

In perfect Carbondale city council style, the council proceeded to discuss a relatively simple issue for an unnecessarily long time. The final result was that the Wissmann appointment was pulled from Item 5.5 and, at a future meeting,  council will consider making a policy requiring the appointment one sitting council member to the CCTB board. The remaining board appointments in Item 5.5 passed unanimously.

Council then discussed Item 5.8 (formerly 4.8), a set of technical corrections to city code. Council member Don Monty pulled the item from the consent agenda because he was concerned that members of the public might not understand what changes council was making to city code. Members of the public can, of course, see the agenda item and the proposed changes online, which makes pulling it from the consent agenda unnecessary.

In the case of Item 5.8, the technical changes involved changing references to Title 15 of the city code. Title 15, the portion of the code dealing with zoning, recently changed. That means that references to Title 15 found elsewhere in the code might not have referred to the current Title 15. Item 5.8 updated all references to Title 15 in the code. It passed unanimously.

Council then turned to the general business agenda. Item 6.1 (formerly 5.1) was a city request to rezone the old high school practice fields on Oakland Avenue back to single family residential. The property in question had been zoned for single family residential use since 1974, even when it was in use by the high school.

In 2010, the property was zoned to PUD (Planned Unit Development) to permit the development of an assisted living facility. The developer was required to submit a final site plan within 12 months of the rezoning. No final site plan was ever submitted, the state funding that was crucial to the project never materialized, and the developer decided not to pursue the project. As a result, city staff requested that the property be returned to its former zoning. Item 6.1 passed unanimously.

The rezoning will come as a relief to residents in the vicinity, many of whom opposed the proposed development. The Northwest Carbondale Neighborhood Association (NCNA) also opposed the development, and its members and supporters will also be relieved to learn that the property has been returned to its former zoning.

Council then considered Item 6.2 (formerly 5.2), which was a discussion of official city council order. This item was the result of a set of perceived slights by Mayor Joel Fritzler to council member Lance Jack. The official order was also the subject of some discussion at the May 7 council meeting.

I’m not going to summarize the entire dispute or the discussion. The result was that council approved a resolution asking staff to draft an ordinance setting order of signature on city resolutions and commendations to alphabetical order by last name. Council member Lance Jack voted against the resolution; all other council members voted in favor.

I didn’t have strong feelings about how the order should be conducted, but I do prefer that roll calls use the same order every time. I keep track of the votes and it would be easier to do if the names were called in the same order at every meeting.

There is one other item worth noting. Mayor Fritzler’s decision in 2011 to unilaterally move citizen comments and questions to the end of the agenda was controversial when it was announced. A few people spoke in opposition to that decision and I criticized it on the blog. At the end of the meeting, the mayor announced that citizen comments and questions will be permanently moved back to the beginning of the meetings. The likely result is more citizen comments and questions.

After council comments, the city council went into closed session at 8:38.

Comments are welcome.

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City Council Meeting 08/21/2012

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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.

Special City Council Meeting 07/31/2012

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The Carbondale City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday, July 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the city hall/civic center to discuss options for promoting tourism. After two hours of discussion, council came to a consensus that the City Manager should move forward with reconstituting the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) and contracting with the Southernmost Illinois tourism bureau  another tourism bureau to provide tourism services for the next few months.

To get an understanding of council’s options, three posts on the Carbondaze Gazette blog (one, two, three) are recommended reading. I generally agree with the ideas council member Jane Adams has advocated in her blog (see here ). I think council should reconstitute CCTB with a completely new board and with additional oversight provisions, as Adams suggests. The new board should rename the organizations and make changes to its bylaws if necessary. Adams suggests “Carbondale Visitor’s Bureau” as a new name, and I like that.

I also agree with council member Chris Wissmann that Carbondale should contract with Southernmost Tourism Bureau for some services. I don’t agree that we should make Southernmost our state certified tourism bureau, but we should direct a small portion of our local funds to Southernmost so Carbondale is represented on their website and in their printed material.

The bulk of our tourism budget should go to a local entity. That organization should have a welcome center in a prominent location and should have a first rate website that is continuously updated. The new CCTB should work with stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality industries to promote Carbondale as effectively as possible.

During council comments at the end of the meeting, council member Adams made an important announcement. The zoning overhaul that has been underway for several months is nearing completion and proposed changes will soon be released to the public. This is tremendously important for Carbondale’s future and I really hope the changes are positive. I’ve often argued that our zoning laws cause poor outcomes. Zoning is important, and an overhaul and modernization is long overdue.

Comments are welcome.

UPDATE: a reader alerted me that the city council hadn’t decided which tourism bureau will receive a contract for short term tourism services.

City Council Meeting 05/01/2012

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As usual, I watched the May 1, 2012 Carbondale city council meeting from home on Mediacom channel 16. The agenda is available on the city’s website. A summary and brief commentary follow.

The consent agenda passed unanimously and no one pulled any of the individual items for discussion. Council then moved on to general business.

Item 5.1, establishing a Health Insurance Reimbursement Fund, passed unanimously. This was an internal accounting change, and it isn’t expected to change the city’s total budget.

Item 5.2 , a resolution authorizing the city manager to execute a contract for the purchase of property from the Canadian National railway, also passed unanimously. The land runs along the railroad tracks and contains two parcels between the tracks and Washington St. (east side of the tracks) and a third parcel between the tracks and Illinois Ave. (west side of the tracks).

The property will be used to construct a pedestrian and bicycle path from the SIUC campus to the town square, with funds coming from the Saluki Way tax. It’s a feel good project (green space, trails, etc.) but I’m not wild about it. It will be nice to have an area dedicated to biking, since there are no bike lanes on the street, but I don’t think it will be a very hospitable place for pedestrians. Of course, we already have a pedestrian path from campus to the town square: the public sidewalks. But that’s another post.

Item 5.3, declaring fair days for the Sunset Concert series, passed 6-1, with council member Corene McDaniel opposed. McDaniel does not believe the city should allow public consumption of alcohol in the public parks and votes against the fair days declaration every year.

Item 5.4, providing funding for community organizations, was the controversial item. Specifically, item 5.4.7, which would have authorized the city manager to execute a contract with the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB), has been an ongoing source of controversy.

Item 5.4.1, providing funds to nine organizations, passed with six affirmative votes. Council member Corene McDaniel voted “present” after raising the objection that the constraints in the city’s proposed contract with CCTB were not included in the contracts for the nine organizations funded by item 5.4.1.

Items 5.4.2 through 5.4.6 reallocated the $50,000 the council cut from the CCTB budget earlier in the year to five separate organizations. All five items passed 6-1, with council member Corene McDaniel casting the dissenting vote on each item.

Item 5.4.7 would have authorized the city manager to execute a contract with CCTB for tourism services. Council member Wissmann moved that council not approve the item, which meant declining to fund CCTB, and instead direct city staff to prepare requests for proposals to provide tourism services to the city. A discussion followed.

Council members Monty and Fronabarger both said they had received more calls and emails about this item than about any since they joined council. In Monty’s case, all the contacts expressed a negative view of CCTB, and Fronabarger said 99% of the comments he received were negative. McDaniel argued that people who are displeased take the time to call or write, while people who are satisfied don’t bother.

The resolution authorizing the city manager to execute a contract with CCTB was defeated 6-1, again with McDaniel casting the dissenting vote. City Manager Kevin Baity then pointed out that CCTB would have been required to fund the Lights Fantastic parade and the Lion’s Club Fourth of July fireworks show and asked for direction. Council directed him to fund those activities directly.

I’m going to keep my comments brief. I think the council did the right thing by declining to fund CCTB. Other organizations are available to provide the services the city has previously paid CCTB to provide. Since the city provided such a large portion of CCTB’s funds, it seems unlikely that the organization can survive.

I will say one other thing. I thought tonight’s meeting went really well and the entire council, Mayor Fritzler, and City Manager Baity deserve credit. The meeting did not get out of control or out of order, as was common last year. Mayor Fritzler has gotten better at running meetings since he took office.

And the council was able to have a substantive discussion and then take action without letting the meeting go all night. Every member of the council was informed and engaged. I was impressed with the way council conducted its business.

City Manager Kevin Baity also deserves credit. When council declined to fund CCTB, Baity immediately reminded council of the Lights Fantastic parade and Fourth of July fireworks funding included in the CCTB package. He was able to explain the item establishing the health insurance fund in language a lay person could understand.

Comments are welcome.

More CCTB Revelations

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I read Geoffrey Ritter’s article on the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) in Wednesday’s Carbondale Times. It’s not online yet, so you’ll have to pick up a copy of the paper to read it. I’ll give you a very brief summary, but you should definitely read the entire article.

Ritter has written in the past (here and here) about nepotism at CCTB. In this week’s article, Ritter reveals that the nepotism might have put CCTB and its director in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest policy. The problem centers around Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (IDCEO) grants. CCTB has received several of these grants in the past eight years and some of the funds were used to employ the CCTB director’s daughter.

IDCEO requires grant applicants to provide notice in writing of possible conflicts of interest, which appears to include providing financial gains to a grantee’s family member. The Times filed a freedom of information request with IDCEO seeking “any and all written conflict-of-interest disclosures” submitted by CCTB, but IDCEO did not provide any disclosures in its response. If no disclosures were filed, that could be a violation of the conflict-of-interest policy, which carries some pretty severe penalties.

As I read the article, I was aware that the city council is planning to act on funding for community organizations at the Tuesday, May 1 meeting. I’ve written before that I think the city needs to bring CCTB under control. The May 1 meeting is the time to take action.

As I see it, there are two possible courses. The first would be to insist on a clause in the city’s contract with CCTB giving the city representation on the board proportional to the portion of the CCTB budget provided by the city. If the city provided 70% of the CCTB budget, the city would appoint 70% of voting board members. We would then need to rely on the mayor to appoint board members who will exercise oversight over CCTB and ideally make some personnel changes in the organization.

The second option would be to simply withdraw city funds from CCTB. The recent decision by the CCTB board to nearly double its membership, thus diluting the voting strength of the city’s appointees to the board, suggests intransigence at the agency. Even if the city’s board strength can be restored through the contract, CCTB might simply find another way to evade city oversight and control. Maybe it’s time to stop funding CCTB.

We should not consider inaction an option. The money the city gives to CCTB belongs to the people of Carbondale. Public money should be used for public purposes and under public control. Allowing the recent CCTB board expansion to stand is not acceptable. Nepotism, or the appearance of nepotism, is not acceptable.

The city council needs to know what you think. The people who support the status quo will call council members and they’ll show up to defend CCTB. If you think the agency needs to be accountable to the public, it would be a good idea to take a moment and call or e-mail the mayor and city council. You can click here to find their contact information on the city’s website.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

April 26, 2012 at 7:45 am

A Word About CCTB

with 8 comments

I have been following Geoffrey Ritter’s excellent series on the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) in the Carbondale Times over the last couple of months. A few weeks ago, I wrote summaries of the two city council meetings concerning CCTB funding (one, two), and I briefly mentioned that I supported Mayor Fritzler’s plan to cut the agency’s funds.

Other than that, I’ve avoided commenting on the CCTB scandal – mainly because it hasn’t seemed necessary. Ritter was exposing CCTB Executive Director Debbie Moore’s questionable moves and the council was taking action to cut the agency’s funding and replace more than half of its board of directors.

When I read Ritter’s article in this week’s Times, I became furious. It isn’t online yet, so if you want to read it you’ll have to pick up a paper copy of the Times. I’ll give you a very brief summary.

Mayor Fritzler was planning to replace all eight of the CCTB board members appointed by the city. The eight members made up a majority of the fifteen person board. The new members would presumably be in a position to exercise some oversight over CCTB and possibly replace its director. So, anticipating the change in membership, the CCTB board voted this week to increase the size of the board, which has the effect of reducing the proportion of board members appointed by the city. To make matters worse, CCTB appointed seven of the eight members Fritzler was planning to replace to the newly created seats.

When I read that, I was shocked and infuriated. The arrogance of this move is breathtaking. It is a transparent attempt to evade city oversight and control of CCTB’s activities, despite the fact that the city of Carbondale provides more than 80% of CCTB’s funding. This cannot be allowed to stand.

The Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau is almost entirely funded by tax dollars that belong to the people of Carbondale. We give the organization tax money that could be used to fund other priorities. If public money is funding an organization, the public has a right to hold that organization accountable. Attempts to evade public oversight are unacceptable.

In this week’s article, Ritter writes that Mayor Fritzler “said he may present for a vote a proposal first presented by Wissmann in February that would make city representation on boards and commissions to which it gives money proportional to the amount of money given.” I was skeptical of that idea when Wissmann proposed it, but it’s obvious now that it is necessary. Fritzler should propose it, and council should support it.

Until such a policy can be put in place, council should direct staff to zero out the city’s contribution to CCTB. That organization should not receive another penny of tax revenue until it can be brought under control. That means more than a change in the composition of the board. That also means a change in staff. At the very least, the executive director should be replaced. Until these changes happen, the city should refuse to fund CCTB.

This change will require leadership. This is an opportunity for Fritzler to prove he’s up to the job of mayor. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to see that our tax dollars are spent wisely. Allowing CCTB to evade oversight is not an option. Council must act to stop the abuses at CCTB.

I’ll link Ritter’s past Carbondale Times articles below. I especially recommend the last two articles.

Comments are welcome.

CCTB Could See Dramatic Funding Cuts from Carbondale, Jackson County

Mayor’s CCTB Proposal Draws Various Reactions

Council Cuts $50,000 from CCTB Budget

At SIU, Tourism Director Has Built a Problematic New Agency

CCTB Nepotism Goes Back Years

Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 29, 2012 at 7:45 am

City Council Meeting 02/07/2012

with 7 comments

I watched last night’s city council meeting from home on Mediacom’s channel 16. As expected, council approved TIF funds for Coleman Rentals, approved the labor agreements with the police unions, and approved the chicken ordinance. And, as expected, the discussion of community and economic development organization funding consumed most of the meeting.

Most of the time spent on community and economic development organization funding was devoted to the mayor’s proposal to cut $120,000 from the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau’s budget and distribute that money to other organizations. CCTB executive director Debbie Moore delivered a 30 minute summary of the agency’s activities and former SIUC chancellor Sam Goldman delivered a speech opposing cuts to the CCTB.

After other organizations seeking funding gave their remarks, council returned to the CCTB issue. Council member Jane Adams asked a number of questions of CCTB executive director Debbie Moore. Adams’ questions were aimed at CCTB’s budget process, performance of its duties, and use of staff time. Mayor Fritzler cut Adams’ time short before she was able to finish asking her questions.

Council member Corene McDaniel delivered a fiery defense of CCTB and indictment of Fritzler’s plan. McDaniel pointed to the assortment of agencies Fritzler proposes funding with the money cut from CCTB and noted that Attucks Community Services, which provides services mostly to African-American children on the city’s northeast side, is not included.

Council member Lance Jack shared his concern that the city is moving too quickly to reallocate funds that have gone to CCTB in the past. Jack said he was open to reallocating the funds but wanted to be sure that whatever projects would receive the redistributed money are able to spend the money intelligently. A tense exchange with Fritzler followed.

Council member Don Monty echoed some of the concerns raised by Jack and McDaniel and added that he is concerned that city funding for some organizations might discourage people from volunteering with those organizations. Monty said that the funding levels proposed for some beneficiaries of the CCTB cut are too low to make much difference to those organizations – offering the Buckminster Fuller Dome and the Park District pool as examples.

Council member Lee Fronabarger pointed to a communications gap with CCTB and said he never knew how CCTB spent its money until he began studying the issue recently. He also said he’s heard complaints about CCTB’s performance of its duties – specifically that CCTB has been unresponsive to requests for help in organizing festivals.

Several community members spoke on the CCTB issue, some in favor of cutting funds from CCTB and some opposed. Council decided to continue the discussion of CCTB funding to the next meeting and to hold funding for all other organizations steady.

I’m going to withhold comment on the substance of this, but I will tell you that I’d vote to cut the funds from CCTB this year and every year until major changes were made to CCTB. To see what Fritzler proposes funding with $120,000 cut from CCTB, click here.

Comments are welcome.

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