Questioning the old ways

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor
www.thebellevilletelescope.com

Tabled.

Tabled.

Tabled.

That was the decision on many Belleville City Council agenda items Monday night as a new council and mayor tried to sort out old procedures and new ways of doing business.

“It’s going to be a long agenda at the next meeting,” joked Belleville City Clerk Russ Piroutek.

The one action item approved was a contract with North Central Regional Planning Commission for a pilot nuisance abatement program. (See related story).

Public comment

The string of tabled discussions started with plans to purchase new Christmas decorations for the city for 2018. After reviewing recommendations presented by city staff, council members Tiffany Hansen and Catherine Derowitsch asked to look at more options.

“I’d like to look at something without garland that looks a little more 2018,” Hansen said. A more heated debate ensued on the Public Comment portion of city council meetings. The council’s current policy is that people who want to address the council at a meeting need to sign in. Council members gave several different reasons for why the policy came about.

Hansen said she believed the policy was started so the council had a heads up on what topics are on citizens’ minds, and to limit their comments. Council member Adam Robertson said he thought the policy was started so that anyone wanting to speak wasn’t overlooked.

Council member Roger McCartney said he thought the policy was started so the council woudn’t take action on a matter raised by a citizen during public comment.

“We need to decide if an issue not on the agenda can be voted on at that meeting, or it needs to be on the next meeting’s agenda,” McCartney said.

McCartney referred to a decision made at the January 8 council meeting to take commercial lots for sale in the 1700 block of M ST off the market until supporters of a downtown community center determine whether that would be a good location for a facility.

“Part of the issue is transparency,” said City Clerk Russ Piroutek. “Items are placed on the agenda so the public can see that it’s going to be discussed if they want to be here.”

The council decided to table both issues of public comment and taking action on nonagenda items to the February 12 meeting.

Facebook applications

Lapo and Hansen broached the subject of using Facebook Live to broadcast council meetings.

“Right now we don’t have a way to broadcast council meetings,” said Lapo. “This way (the public) could follow a meeting on Facebook if they like.”

Robertson raised concerns about public comment on Facebook during a meeting. Council member Catherine Derowitsch said council members might become more careful about what they say at the public meeting.

“So maybe my mouth would shut up sometimes,” she joked.

Piroutek said the city also needs to research whether video broadcasts need to be archived and kept for a specific length of time like other documents.

In the end, the council agreed to establish a City of Belleville Facebook page, closed to comments, that could inform citizens of immediate concerns like water line breaks.

The discussion of broadcasting city council meetings was tabled until the staff and council could do more research.

“I don’t have (cable TV) and I’m not listening to the radio unless I’m in my car, so if it’s not on Facebook, I don’t know about it,” Hansen commented about using social media for city announcements.

Evaluations

Monday’s meeting was about to adjourn when Piroutek passed out evaluation forms for the city manager which council members were asked to complete before the February 12 meeting.

That launched a long discussion about how all staff members appointed by the council are evaluated, who should do those evaluations, and whether other appointed staff members answer to the city manager. Staff appointed by the council are the city manager, city clerk, city judge, city attorney and police chief.

“I worked for 14 different city managers,” said Derowitsch, who was a longtime city clerk. “I don’t think the manager should be over the other appointed positions.”

City manager Neal Lewis said the council has previously not given any direction on how appointed positions are evaluated, and said he welcomed the council’s input. “The city manager should reflect the council’s will and desire,” he said.