Corbin H. Crable
Gardner City Council members, at a work session Monday night, discussed two separate issues brought to them by local residents – a suggested change to the council’s public comment period, and a suggested change to the city’s charter ordinance regarding the terms of mayoral appointees.
Council member Kristy Harrison said she had been contacted by an unnamed local resident about a possible alteration in the format of the city’s public comment period during the council’s regular meetings. As it stands now, the public comment period appears on the council agenda before any old or new business items. The resident’s proposed change, Harrison said, is to allow public comment on each old or new business item either before or after council discusses or takes action on it.
Harrison said she has done research on the policies of other taxing entities, such as Spring Hill and Johnson County itself, regarding the matter.
“There are times when (public comment on specific items) is allowed, but there’s no rhyme or reason to it,” she said.
But one of the problems of adopting such a change, according to City Administrator Stewart Fairburn, is that allowing public discussion on specific agenda items would then make the exchange a public hearing, which has to be formally announced by the council and published in a legal notice.
Right now, entities such as USD 231 and the city of Edgerton require residents to sign a sheet before a meeting in order to denote that they wish to address the governing body. And county commissioners remain online during their meetings to address electronic correspondence with those who may be viewing their meetings at home.
The city of Edgerton also requires that speakers keep their comments to a certain length, usually five minutes or fewer. Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta recalled the council having a specific meeting for public comment about the intermodal, but none since.
“We don’t have a town-hall style of government,” he said, also noting the council is not required to allow public comments at all during its meetings.
The mayor voiced a belief that the issue requires no further action but that comments about the matter from the public are welcome.
On a separate note, Drovetta said he had been contacted by Gardner resident and business owner Chris Morrow about a change to the city’s charter ordinance regarding mayoral appointments to the council. The mayor said that after being contacted by Morrow about the suggested change, he told Morrow he wasn’t interested in discussing the issue, and that the decision was made to bring the topic to the governing body only after Morrow e-mailed the council with his concerns.
Right now, appointees seated by the mayor serve the remainder of the term of a specific council member. In the case of the three most recent appointees, council member Dan Newburg’s term ends in 2011, while the terms of both Brian Broxterman and Harrison end in 2013.
Morrow’s proposed change would allow appointees to the council to serve only until the next general election.
Drovetta warned that it costs money to make such changes, but he admitted that “the way in which the process occurs is not well-defined.”
Drovetta also said he thinks the issue was raised solely because of the recent controversy surrounding the city’s recall election in March, and that one incident should not be the sole catalyst leading to change. The mayor said that while he believes this specific change isn’t needed, the council may need to further discuss it in the future.
Harrison said she, too, believes it may be beneficial for the council to at least discuss the matter.
“I think there’s some value in understanding how this can be handled differently,” she said.
In other business, the council:
• heard a review of the city’s health insurance program from Assistant City Administrator Melissa Mundt
• heard the results of a preliminary engineering study for the Western Johnson County Water Cooperative from Jim Melvin, the city’s water/wastewater manager
The council will next meet for its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 17, at City Hall, 120 E. Main St. in Gardner.