November 26, 2014

Gardner council needs to find middle ground quickly

Council members appear perilously close to hosting a pointless, directionless meeting next week.
Members of the Gardner City Council acquiesced to a demand from council member Larry Fotovich to hold a special meeting on April 29. The goal of the meeting was unclear from the start: Was it to draft and approve a new ordinance for electing and appointing members of the city council? Was the intent to simply have a discussion about possible changes to charter ordinances that currently govern the city council?
We fear a pointless meeting, in which nothing new will be brought to the table.
The arguments for changing the way appointments are made to the Gardner City Council are clear and understandable. But the road to making those changes is murky.
One thing is certain: The process has needed tweaking since the days of the Carol Lehman administration. The topic should not have been set aside repeatedly.
However, the mishaps of previous councils should not require the complete abandonment of common sense and reason.
There must be some middle ground, and this council needs to find it quickly.
Quick action with an end goal in mind is reasonable, but making it happen within the next seven days is not. Neither is waiting until after budget season, which concludes in late August. There has to be some middle ground, and last night, the council failed to find it.
We dread the April 29 meeting. There simply isn’t enough time for staff to thoroughly vet possible changes and make recommendations. And if no council members are prepared to make specific and definitive recommendations, we fear the special meeting will be a repeat of the April 22 meeting. The same issues will be discussed without moving the needle any closer towards a resolution.
To help the process move along, we suggest the following changes:

• As early as May 6, amend the ordinance that requires four members of the council to conduct business to say only three council members are needed;

• Draft a timeline for establishing an appointment process. The timeline should allow time for city staff to research how other governing entities appoint into vacancies;

• Discuss specifically drafted changes to only the appointment process. We’d like to see it as early as a May or June work session. The session should include chartering out of, or exemption from, the state statute that requires councils to declare unapproved candidates as unfit or unqualified;

• Consider more dramatic changes, including a ward system for elections, after the 2014 budget is adopted.

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