Gardner City Council created a series of citizen committees that would vet proposals in a several areas. For example, a parks and recreation committee will discuss and have input on parks and recreation projects and events. As envisioned, these committees would be staffed with citizen volunteers as an extra layer of representation and input on city business. Each council member would make appointments to each committee, and each council member would serve as an ex-officio member of one committee.
This shouldn’t be complicated. There are a number of boards and committees appointed by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, and there’s almost never a fight over who can rightfully serve on those committees.
Prior to the Oct. 19 city council meeting, the county’s blueprint of committee success shows too much common sense for Gardner. This council’s committee process is turning into a show of ego.
Council members Rich Melton and Lee Moore have opposed two of three appointments proposed by council member Kristina Harrison.
They objected to Planning Commission Chair Adriana Meder serving on the economic development committee, because she serves on the planning commission. However, they agreed to allow Meder to serve on the committee provided she doesn’t have a vote.
Meanwhile, they came perilously close to slandering another Harrison proposed appointment. Melton suggested Harrison’s proposed appointment to the citizens police advisory committee had harassed another potential nominee to the committee.
Mayor Chris Morrow shut the meeting down, and last night, council members debated making changes to the committee appointment process. They agreed to use a process similar to one the county uses.
We would remind council members that this process only works when members of the governing body are respectful of the choices of others. This means acknowledging that other council members may have different ideas as to what qualifications are necessary to serve on committees whose sole function is making recommendations the council can override.
It’s difficult not to be offended when the goal of the committees, at least in the mind’s of some council members, is finding citizens who possess as little historical and institutional knowledge as possible.
Two council members suggested that old people, or those who have previously served in a capacity on the governing body, should be excluded from potential appointment. This appeared to be an attack on those who have lived in Gardner for more than a few years. Council should be reminded that discrimination against old people is not legal.
Historical perspective should be valued, and that was obvious during the Oct. 19 meeting. Council member Steve Shute suggested that a planning commission recommendation to approve an 84-unit apartment complex on the southeast side of town should be vetted by the school district. In the past, a larger complex was denied by council after school officials opposed it. That was before two new schools were built and under a previous district administration. There’s no need to suggest the delay of important projects if one knows the history of that parcel of land.
Balanced committees that truly reflect all of Gardner should be the priority. These committees should not be allowed to devolve into vanity projects for members of the governing bodies.
For what it’s worth, advisory committees often become rubber stamps for public employees’ desires. They regularly serve to keep the public in the dark about important topics until it’s almost too late to effect change or voice dissent. Perhaps, the greatest example is the school board’s recent decision to seek a bond issue vote.
The plans for such a project were hatched in a board committee that meets during the work day. The committee meeting schedules are not readily available, and minutes of those meetings aren’t regularly available either. Thus, a major proposal was adopted by the school board with nary a word of input from the public at-large.
We sincerely hope these city committees don’t turn into attempts to keep the public in the dark. That probability can be somewhat mitigated by ensuring the committees are balanced with people from all walks – even the older folks — and making the committees subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act.