Following what could have been a chance remark by City Attorney Dan Vogel, Mayor Herb Adams told The Missourian that everyone in city government has something to learn in the interaction between aldermen and the various boards and commissions.
Appointed boards and commissions have an important role to play in city government and their recommendations should be the starting point for aldermanic action, Adams said.
The city park board, tourism commission and planning and zoning commission (P&Z) are established by city ordinance, backed by state statute, and assigned specific duties. Members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the board of aldermen.
The mayor said he wants to see the city rethink its working practices with the city’s boards and commissions and the role that ordinances call for them to play.
Adams stressed that the boards and commissions have “a very important place” in city government and aldermanic action should reflect the rightful responsibility they possess by city ordinance and state statute.
By no means is the board of aldermen expected to rubber stamp every recommendation they receive, the mayor said, but he wants to see greater emphasis placed on what commissions are recommending.
“Their recommendations should be acted on as presented,” Adams said. “That’s what they’re called on to do.”
The mayor made his remarks to The Missourian after the board of aldermen and the city attorney recently set aside park board and tourism commission recommendations, replacing them with board action, and took steps to bypass the planning and zoning commission in the process of approving the new comprehensive plan that is nearing completion.
After the park board spent more than a year developing a plan for construction of a new structure in Liberty Field to house restrooms, a concession stand and mechanical storage room, aldermen said they had been looking at portable restrooms.
Instead of sending the restroom building recommendations back to the park board, asking them to look at the portable facility, aldermen sought costs to install a portable restroom in the park.
Following a recent tourism commission recommendation that the downtown business group be awarded $1,500 to promote the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Larry Mueller, representing the downtown business group, asked aldermen to overrule the commission and let his group spend the funds on parade costs such as candy and insurance that the tourism commission had denied.
City attorney Dan Vogel said it could be done if Mueller created a contract with a budget or list of how he wanted to spend the funds. Instead of sending Mueller back to the tourism commission, aldermen said he should make a list of expenditures and take it to City Clerk Kim Barfield.
Alderman Mike Pigg questioned whether the downtown group could include parade insurance as a tourism expense if he put it on the list. Vogel said he could not, but other things like candy could qualify.
By state statute, the tourism commission is charged with the responsibility to administer the tourism funds within the limits of budget. There is no mention in the statute that aldermen can initiate tourism tax spending.
At that meeting, Alderman Carol Johnson asked the mayor to make a list of what the tourism funds could be spent for and deliver it to the tourism commission, but Adams said he did not want to tie the hands of the commission by dictating what they could or should approve.
“The tourism commission still has the discretion when it comes to spending,” he said. “I don’t want to take away any of their discretion. If anything I want to give them more discretion. I am always looking for new ways to use the tourism funds to promote the city. Someone may come up with an idea we have not seen.”
Vogel’s remark came during the same meeting as Todd Streiler, who is preparing the new comprehensive plan and spoke about his meeting with groups to introduce contents of the plan.
He said he had made a preliminary presentation to the planning and zoning commission and had spoken with the park board and the Chamber of Commerce.
Streiler noted that state statute calls for P&Z to review the document and make a recommendation to aldermen.
Vogel said that Streiler is accurate, but added for P&Z to see the proposed plan prior to aldermen seeing it was “a meaningless plan.
“There is no point in them (P&Z) adopting something unless you can support it,” Vogel told aldermen.
Vogel urged aldermen to preview the prepared document ahead of P&Z. He said the aldermen should hear the plan upfront.
“You can get into the near final document before P&Z adopts it so you can support it,” he said.
Streiler said he wants to add to the plan that the city should empower the Chamber to participate in the approval process.
The city ordinance empowers the planning and zoning commission, not the board of aldermen or the Chamber to draft a new comprehensive plan.
Chapter 405 of the city land use articles says: “The planning and zoning commission shall have the following duties . . . to prepare, adopt and submit to the board of aldermen for its approval a comprehensive plan for the physical development and uses of land within the city and recommend modifications thereof from time to time as deemed in the city’s best interest.”
After listing other duties, the powers and duties concludes: “The Commission shall have the power necessary to perform its lawful duties.”
Adams said Vogel’s comments are not politically correct.
“He (Vogel) is not a politician,” the mayor said.
But more to the point, he said, recent practices between aldermen and commission recommendations have gone in a direction that was never intended by city ordinance or state statute.
“I think all of us need to relearn how to consider these recommendations,” Adams said. “If these commissions didn’t have a real role to play they would not be allowed by state statute.”
The mayor also said he does not want to downplay the role of aldermen as the city’s legislative body that adopts commission recommendations. It is their role to make the laws and approve spending, he said.
Aldermen are not expected to rubber stamp every recommendation they receive, Adams said, but they do need to listen to the recommendation that is presented by a duly formed commission and frame their discussion in a way that strengthens the role of government.
Adams said both Vogel’s and Streiler’s wishes to have the board of aldermen dictate what the planning commission should recommend is contrary to the intended role of the commission.
“I don’t agree that aldermen should tell them (commissioners) what to recommend,” he said.
Even with an issue with great expectations, such as the comprehensive plan, sending the recommendation back to the commission with clearly stated explanation of what aldermen disagreed with could create an important discussion, Adams said.
“We need to learn to listen to the commissions’ recommendations and if we disagree send them back with a clear and careful explanation why,” he said. “If they (commission members) understand what aldermen object to they can redefine their recommendation. We will all be stronger because of this discussion.”