A subdued city council listened as three citizens, including the former mayor, asked that council members learn to work together with civility.
“You have a chance from this moment on to change the tenor of these council meetings,” former Mayor Carol Lehman told members. “The code of conduct is a good step, but it’s going to be up to each one of you to change the public perception. If need be, remind each other to stay on track and speak to each other and speak to staff with respect.”
Lehman urged council to wipe the slate clean after meeting debate spilled from council chambers to the front of council member Larry Fotovich’s house. Dennis Pugh resigned and has been charged with battery and criminal deprivation of property.
Steve Shute, Gardner, called the behavior of the council at the last meeting an embarrassment.
“I feel extremely embarrassed for this city,” Shute told the council. “I feel embarrassed for this council. Our city is being portrayed across the metro as a joke.”
Shute commended Pugh for stepping aside, but said it is distressing he waited a week and a half to do so and that Mayor Drovetta did not issue a statement saying that Pugh’s behavior is not to be tolerated.
“I don’t mind seeing council men and women engaged in healthy debate,” Shute said. “We went way over the line this time around.”
He noted that with the loss of Pugh, a majority of the council will again be appointed rather than elected. Pugh’s replacement will be the Mayor’s fifth appointment to the council. When Drovetta became Mayor in 2009, he appointed Steve Hale to fill the remainder of his own term on the council.
Drovetta appointed two more council members after council members Mary Peters and John Shepherd were recalled in 2010, and appointed a fourth council member after another council member resigned.
“Is this something that we want as a city? To continue to have these rifts that are going to continue to see people resign or be removed?” Shute asked. “…Put aside the differences, have lively debate, have a vote and get over it. Move forward.”
Resident Andy Copeland said he thought the recall election would take care of the problems of the council.
“I’d just encourage all to keep it in perspective,” he told council members. “If people have ulterior motives, I just ask them to step aside.”
Lehman said part of that process should involve supporting the Mayor.
“When the Mayor has attempted to limit negative conversation, he’s been called a dictator,” Lehman said.
When he’s done less, people have said he lacks leadership, Lehman explained.
“Support your mayor. He has great vision for this community,” she said.
Council members briefly discussed a propose communication policy that would establish a protocol for future meetings.
Interim city administrator Mike Press told council members one of the first things he noticed when he took over as interim director several weeks ago was that council members throw out questions without first being recognized by the chair.
“I’ve really never worked any place where that’s the protocol,” Press said.
Portions of the drafted proposal include provisions that: “Members should refrain from discussing others (sic) motives regarding matters that are under consideration;… Any council member who wishes to ask a question will be first be recognized by the Mayor or designee;…Direction to staff to research, evaluate or follow-up on any substantive matter that comes before the city council is provided by the Mayor with the concurrence of the majority of the council.”
Council member Chris Morrow said there were several things in the draft that he’d like to discuss. Morrow also said he’d like to see council compare Press’s draft with a standard communication policy suggested by the Kansas League of Municipalities (KLM).
“I think it would save us some time this evening and give us more red meat to talk about next week,” Morrow said.
Currently the council uses Roberts Rules of Order, which council member Brian Broxterman called “archaic.” He expressed interest in reviewing the KLM’s recommended policy as well.
The proposal for discussion on Monday night sparked a few concerns for Fotovich.
“Any time I see the words ‘appropriate’ or ‘substantive,’ and there’s no person that decides what that is, I get a little nervous about free speech issues,” Fotovich said. “We’ve had lively discussions in the past – most of them never going beyond any extremes. We’ve been able to conduct ourselves for seven months with only two incidents.”
Council will discuss a communication policy at a work session on Dec. 12.
In other business, council members:
• approved the re-zoning of 642 E. Main Street, 1.7 acres that once housed CMI, from commercial industrial to commercial.
• rezoned land between Center Street and 183rd Street so that a new middle school and elementary school can be built should voters approve the USD 231 $73 million bond proposal in January.
• passed an ordinance requiring that trash containers used for refuse collection be no larger than 95 gallons. A revision to the ordinance also allows Johnson County Fire District No. 1 to issue burn permits rather than the city.
• tabled discussion and action on the city’s 2012 legislative agenda.