Council members opposed the appointment of two citizens nominated by Kristina Harrison for city advisory committees during a Sept. 21 council meeting.
Council members established five advisory committees last July. The committees will make recommendations to the council on a variety of topics, including street maintenance and parks and recreation oversight.
All council members nominated potential appointees to serve on the Citizens Police Advisory Committee and the Economic Development Committee, and council members were set to approve five nominees for the two committees on Monday night.
However, council member Rich Melton opposed the appointment of Adrianna Meder, Gardner, to the Economic Development Committee. Meder serves as chair of the planning commission.
Council member Steve Shute said because Meder serves on the planning commission, he could see the potential for conflicts of interest. Shute proposed that the ordinance that created the economic development committee be changed to make the chair of the planning commission, in this case Meder, an ex-officio or non-voting member of the advisory committee. “I would like to add another citizen who is not another member of a committee, and I think that covers both issues that could arise,” Shute said.
Three members of the council, Melton, Lee Moore and Shute, have recently taken issue with a planning commission decision to deny a rezoning of 2.67 acres on 191st Street for a freight terminal. The trio kicked the decision back to the commission for reconsideration. The rezoning request has since been withdrawn.
Moore opposed adding Meder as even a non-voting member of the economic advisory committee. A council member will also serve on each of the recently created committees as an ex-officio member.
“That seems kind of redundant to have an ex-officio member of the council and a member of the planning commission on the same committee,” Moore said. “The planning commission represents us.”
Melton also argued against Meder’s appointment to the committee.
“To me it seems redundant to have people in there who can’t do anything anyway,” Melton said. “If they can’t vote, what’s the point of having them there?”
Later, Shute backtracked somewhat on making Meder the ex-officio planning commission member. His original suggestion was that the planning commission chair would serve as an ex-officio member of the economic development committee, but as the discussion continued, Shute said Meder or a member of the planning commission.
“As a permanent ex-officio, it doesn’t have to be the chair,” Shute said.
Harrison said she nominated Meder because she thought it was important to have someone familiar with the rezoning and application process serving on the committee.
“From my perspective having someone involved in that process and engaged is important,” Harrison said. “With that being said, since I submitted (Meder’s) name if making her an ex officio position, I have another name. That works well for me. I’m great with that.”
Meder wasn’t the only Harrison nominee that council members Melton and Moore opposed. Melton also said Harrison’s nominee for the Citizens Police Advisory Committee, Steve Hale, should be re-evaluated.
Council previously discussed that members of the police advisory committee should have law enforcement experience or have attended the citizens police academy classes offered through the city of Gardner, Melton said during the Sept. 21 meeting. Minutes from the July 13 meeting, however, show that Melton suggested last summer that committee members who have taken the class should have priority — not that it should be a requirement.
“Steve Hale has never been a police officer and has not attended the police academy,” Melton said. “When we go through the citizen’s police academy, we learn a lot about what the department is going through. To me, it seems we might want to re-evaluate that individual.”
Mayor Chris Morrow said those were desired traits, but not required.
“Eighty-percent of the nominees (to the committee) are in law enforcement or went through the police academy,” Morrow said. “I think we’ve enough representation from everyone else. Sometimes, you just need one of the folks.”
Hale has previously served on the city council and on the school board, but Melton said Hale was a member of a council that did not appropriately fund the police department.
“To make that accusation is not right,” Harrison said. The council, she said, listened to the department heads. Former Chief Ken Francis was frugal and didn’t request a lot of new equipment or funding.
“In my opinion, you trust your department heads to make those decisions,” Harrison said. “I can assure you, people asked Chief Francis what he wanted.”
Melton reminded everyone that the current police chief originally only requested four new police cars in the budget. The department now has eight new police cars.
“I sat up here and told everybody that we needed more vehicles,” he said. “That didn’t happen when anyone else was up here.”
Melton also accused Hale of harassing one of the other potential nominees to the police advisory committee.
“I guess Mr. Hale was almost harassing him,” Melton said, though he did not offer a name. “People witnessed it. That in itself is an issue.”
The other names listed for appointment included Norm Schutte, Thomas Foxworthy, Walter Hermreck and Kacy Dale.
“You got to submit a recommendation,” Morrow told Melton. “Everybody got to submit a recommendation. Honestly, you having an issue with Steve Hale is news to me.”
Under the ordinance establishing the advisory committees, each council member submits nominations for council approval and Mayor appointment, Morrow said. Throughout the discussion, Morrow requested that council members treat the discussion about potential citizen volunteers delicately.
“They’re friends and neighbors for some of us,” Morrow said. If we’re going to have issues with it, I don’t want to have a discourse about an individual.”
Morrow ended discussion and council did not vote on approving appointments to the committees. Morrow said he would speak individually with council members about their concerns before making final appointments to any of the committees.
Gardner voters approved a sales tax inititive last Tuesday. Proceeds from the half-cent sales tax will be used to fund infrastructure improvements to streets and trails. It will sunset in 10 years. The tax replaces a 10-year tax, which funded the debt on Celebration Park and the Gardner Aquatic Center. It sunsets at the end of 2015. The next tax will be formally implemented in January 2016. Gardner Mayor Chris Morrow was pleased voters approved the sales tax question. “The condition of Gardner’s infrastructure, especially our streets and sidewalks, impacts the quality of life of our residents,” he said. “Better streets, sidewalks, and well maintained infrastructure position the city for a brighter future.” In the mail-in ballot special election, 62 percent of voters approved the initiative. Of the 9,527 ballots mailed to registerd voters, only 2,489, or 26 percent, were returned to the election office to be counted. Morrow said the whole city will benefit from the improvements. “I want to thank every Gardner citizen who took the time to vote, whether you voted for or against the tax renewal,” he said.