Thursday, July 16, 2009

Follow-up on July 13th City Council Meeting - Part 2

After the POW/MIA flag issue was settled, the city council took a short recess, and then continued business. About 35 people stayed for the rest of the meeting, still a very significant increase in attendence from usual council meetings.

Mayor Hammons wanted to discuss three possible changes to the city charter: ward voting, term limits for the mayor and council, and a possible change to the form of government.

Last year, the council formed a committee to review the charter, with the express command to not touch anything regarding the form of government. Councilors Bob Luttrull (chair) and Jim Ritchey sat on the committee, in addition to one citizen appointed by each councilor. They were to submit a report to the council in May with their recommendations.

May came and went without any word from the committee. An email was finally sent out the night before the council meeting with the committee's recommendations; the delay was attributed to not being ready until that evening. However, the Muskogee Phoenix had bullet points in the Sunday newspaper , meaning they had copies on Saturday, before the committee supposedly had compiled the report.

Councilor Luttrull stated during the council meeting that the highest attendence on the committee was three members in addition to himself. He also said that most of the report was his own thoughts, due to the lack of attendence.

One of the citizens present commented that the city council committees have to have a quorum present to conduct business, and wondered why Luttrull, as chairman, did not try to get the members to the meeting.

Hammons stated at one point (in the context of getting people involved in local government) that he contacted the National League of Cities to find out what they say gets citizens involved. The NLC gave him three items: strong mayor form of government, ward voting, and partisan elections. Hammons said that he is not in favor of partisan elections, but he wants to put the other two up for discussion.

The general feeling from the council was opposition to all of Hammons' proposals; the audience was very supportive of Hammons, and pretty hostile to the council. Several times, council members got involved in heated debates with citizens (even though it's against the council's stated policy to have two-way discussion during meetings), to the point that the mayor had to gavel them down at one point.

Councilor Ragsdale gave one reason for his opposition to ward voting. According to Ragsdale, currently councilors do represent wards, but they're elected by the entire city. Therefore, they have a responsibility to represent the whole town, not just one ward. He gave the example of people talking to him in the grocery store about issues that they have, and he said under ward voting, he wouldn't be able to help them since he'd need to have them contact their councilor (which, frankly, is just stupid).

Cedric Johnston, one of many citizens to speak, said that in his research, most towns Muskogee's size that have ward voting are growing at a great rate. I spoke next, and pointed out that most of the towns in Oklahoma our size already have ward voting.

Towards the end, Mayor Hammons said that he wanted to publicy state that "if Muskogee moves to a strong mayor system, I have no desire to be that strong mayor."

Several councilors complained of the general lack of involvement by the community, and the lack of attendance. Dean Swan, the last citizen to speak, addressed that issue. He said, "If you don't want to feed a lot of people, you ring a little bitty bell and hope a lot of people don't come to dinner. This council is ringing a little bitty bell."

The council adjourned without taking action on the charter changes, since there were no concrete proposals (the agenda said they were to "discuss and take possible action").

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