During the several month of campaigning for St. George City Mayor and City Council seats many issues were raised.
Some of those issues were simply manufactured to benefit or intentionally injure one or more candidates. What most candidates came through with were some central concepts that in fact do need attention. Unfortunately, a couple of candidates used those issues to tear down others rather than build up the community. I point that out here once, and then I will leave it alone.
It is time to move forward.
In January, 2014 two new people will be seated on the City Council; Michele Randall and Joe Bowcutt. Additionally, current Councilman Jon Pike will take over as Mayor. These three along with Councilmen Gil Almquist and Jimmie Hughes will be faced with a critical choice. That choice will be who to select to replace Mr. Pike as a council member. Then together those six will set a tone and course for the future of St. George City.
Some former candidates have already indicated their intent to apply to sit in the seat to be vacated by Mr. Pike. There will likely be other people that will join the list of “potentials”.
None of the City Council members should be a “rubber stamp” for another member of the governing body. Likewise, it will not be beneficial for a group of council members to band together in some form of partisan-style unity. Yet, also no member of the city council should standout as as perpetual opponent of all or any other members.
Each member of the city council should be independent enough to stand firmly and resolutely for what they believe. All the same each member should be committed to working as a team. However, it should be done in a spirit of cooperation that never co-opts genuinely held views for the benefit of the whole city. I believe that is what the council should be seeking when the interview for the person to fill the seat to be vacated by Jon Pike.
During the campaign the issue of transparency came up. Several candidates spoke to that issue. Some of the real and frivolous issues raised special interests groups also came back to that issue.
The newly elected governing body ought to focus on that transparency. Specific and almost immediate steps should be taken by the city council to assure openness in access by the public to them and the administrative structure.
- From the outset the city council should begin amending its agenda to include an opportunity for the public to address them with concerns: For example at the early part of the agenda there could be an item such as: “Public Input-This portion of the meeting is reserved for persons desiring to address the City Council on any matter not on this agenda, and over which the City Council has jurisdiction. Please state your name for the record and limit your comments to three minutes.”
- The City Council has access to the agenda via the City’s website, as does the public. However, the City Council also has access to all the background information for the items on the City Council agenda. It appears from the city website that the public does not have access to that public information, and they should. All backup materials for any agenda item (other than closed session materials) should be made available to the public via the city website.
- When seeking information from the city it is almost routine that such request are met with a requirement to complete Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) request. This is too frequently cumbersome and is only a response to an overly risk-averse legal department. For example, just a week ago I contacted city hall asking how to acquire a copy of the City Code. I was informed that I must complete a GRAMA request. I was shocked that a citizen would be required to submit a request form, wait an indefinite period of time, and then probably have to pay to know what laws governed them. The City Council, over the objection of their legal counsel, should direct that any routine documents and information about the city’s business be immediately provided to requesting citizens.
- Lastly, whenever the city holds a “public hearing” the city council ought not act on the matter until after the minutes of the hearing have been completed and published, available to the public. This allows for interested parties to properly prepare to respond and give input on matters to council members.
Issues were raised during the campaign about code enforcement.
- The governing body should appoint an ad hoc committee to review the City Code, and administrative operating procedures. The committee should be given a timetable (suggestion of four months) to complete their review and recommend any changes in the code or administrative procedures to the City Council. The City Council should then act to adopt or modify any of the recommendations of the committee.
- My recommendation would be that each Council member and the mayor appoint one member each to the committee.
A lot of discussion was raised about the animal shelter and stray animal care during the campaign. Over the last few years proposals have been suggested to “regionalize” the animal care issues. Among those idea has been the suggestion to place animal care under the Washington County or some other regional board.
- Again, a committee similar to the one outline for code enforcement should be established. Part of the committee mandate should be to develop a proposal to create a regional board and entity to management animal care issues.
- The committee should be given authority to speak with other cities and the Washington County officials to assist in developing a proposal for addressing this safety concern.
These proposals should not conflict with the mandate or authority of the City Council. If anything they should assist the City council in engaging a larger segment of the populations.
The City Council will be diverse in views. Yet, hopefully they will be common in their desire to continue to serve the community well. Each member will have differing opinions. This does not mean they cannot work effectively together. That should be the focus of who is selected to serve with them as they choose a new team mate after the first of the new year. It is in the ability and commitment to work together that St. George will continue to be a highly advantageous community for anyone to live and prosper in.