City staff to the rescue! Or ... the process 'stinks'
There were two moments that stood out to me at the June 13 City Council meeting as being politically significant. In the first, the city staff looked good. In the second, the city staff looked bad.
First, City Councilman Nick Klufas challenged City Manager Jim Landon publicly — for the second meeting in a row — for Landon’s decision to not forward documents that Klufas had hoped would be distributed to the rest of the City Council for future discussion.
It was, at first, unclear why Landon seemed reluctant to do things as simple as forwarding documents or entertaining Klufas’ desire to have Verizon deliver a presentation to the City Council. Is he trying to bridle Klufas’ energy too much? Or is Klufas showing up Landon in public?
But ultimately, Landon was direct with Klufas. He told him that as a council member, Klufas should not be meeting with individual companies like that. “It doesn’t meet our purchasing policy,” he said. If companies bid for government contracts, prior contact with those companies could be perceived as favoritism. It’s one of the checks and balances to keep the system pure.
Once Klufas heard that, he seemed to change his approach. He joked, “For the record, please keep me out of jail.”
In my view, Landon and the staff looked good in this moment. Hopefully Klufas will trust the staff for their experience in the future and work with them to understand all the policies so that his considerable talents can be put to full use in the service of the city.
The second moment — when the city staff looked bad, in my opinion — was found in City Councilman Steve Nobile’s and City Councilwoman Heidi Shipley’s report of the June 7 meeting at Matanzas High School. The meeting was held to inform residents about the plans to build a pedestrian path through a neighborhood.
Nobile told Landon that he was disturbed by the fact that the City Council had already voted on the path the night before, at the June 6 city meeting. In his view, although there had been no intentional “misdirection” by staff, the process “stinks.”
He said that if the residents get that upset about something, it’s worth looking carefully at more options, even if it means the project gets delayed.
Furthermore, Robin Rucker, a Fieldstone Lane resident who had walked door-to-door to gather signatures opposing the path, spoke at the June 13 workshop and said she had fought this same project in 2008.
How can that be? If the residents were so opposed in 2008 and the project had been killed as a result, why is the city bringing the same project back for approval in 2017 — and why was that action buried on the June 6 agenda in what might otherwise appear to be a routine paving agreement?
Whatever the intention, it certainly appears to residents that the city is trying to circumvent the their wishes.
Kudos to Nobile and Shipley for raising their voices and representing the people who elected them. Whether the path ends up being built or not, at least now the item will be brought back to the City Council for more discussion, and the residents will be able to feel confident that the city is listening.