Photo: (left to right) Chris Morrow, mayor; Todd Winters, council vice president, and Rich Melton, council member, at the Gardner city council meeting on Aug. 21. Melton’s use of a video camera to live stream himself during sessions has become an issue. Meetings are routinely vide taped and are available online. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
The council chamber at city hall had a full house of patrons at the start of a five plus hour Gardner city council meeting on Aug. 8. The majority of the citizens were there to object to a new facility at New Century Airfield. Council also considered the 2018 Budget, amendments to LDC code and the paper of record.
There were far more public comments than usual – 50 minutes of public comments from 16 individuals, speaking on a variety of topics.
Prior to the meeting being called to order, the audience watched a showdown between Chris Morrow, mayor, and Rich Melton, council member, over Melton’s use of a video camera on the dais.
Melton has begun bringing a cell phone camera mounted on a small tripod to recent meetings. He places it in front of himself while live streaming video to his Facebook page.
The same debate occurred prior to the Aug. 17 budget work session.
Morrow says that a council member operating the camera on the dais is distracting to the meeting and insisted it should be turned off.
Other council members joined the discussion.
After a few minutes, Ryan Denk, city attorney, advised council that they should call the meeting to order to continue discussion.
Morrow then called the meeting to order, and after the Pledge of Allegiance, there was 15 minutes of debate about the camera.
All council meetings are routinely videotaped and available for patrons online.
In the end, the camera was turned off.
The patrons who came to speak waited another hour before the public comments section of the meeting was opened.
The first item on the agenda was the 2018 Budget presentation, given by Laura Gourley, finance director.
The presentation was based on council input and directives from prior months and most recently last Thursday’s final budget work session (Aug. 17).
Gourley walked through items in the budget presentation including: infrastructure and asset management, roads and streets, ADA improvements, vehicle replacement program and 2018 Capitol Projects.
She provided numbers on new economic activity, council directed staffing additions and the contribution to Gardner Township for improvements to the cemetery.
In summary, she said the budget was structurally sound, as represented by adequate reserves in both tax levy funds and utility funds. It addresses current infrastructure needs and services, maintains the total mill levy and current utility rates.
Gourley then introduced Jim Pruetting, police chief, who reported on a pay compensation study.
The city has lost some officers to higher paying jobs in other cities and is looking to mitigate that.
“Everything [police salaries] in the county starts about the same, but as you get further on, our top of the range is much lower than the cities we compete with,” said Pruetting.
Pruetting said 19 of 32 positions would get raises.
There was a Public Hearing held after the presentation, and two patrons spoke.
“When I was looking at the list of all the dates and all the different decisions being made, and I thought – how many of those had any of the public in them? And it was none. It was all council given direction, this that and another…,” said Adam Cox of Gardner.
Both patrons commented that the budget was released with little time for the public to review it.
“It’s very difficult to look at something this complex and try and digest it,” said Cox.
Later, in new business, an ordinance was presented to adopt the 2018 Budget.
Steve Shute, council president, asked the city attorney what the legal consequences would be if they did not pass the budget before the deadline of Aug. 25. He wanted to have more time for council and the public to vet it and considered a special meeting.
Denk said there was no established penalty, but the city would be out of statutory compliance and might require official disclosure statements in the interim.
Chris Morrow, mayor, wanted to get it done and submitted on time.
“I can tell you that I do not ever want to be out of statutory compliance regarding our budget. Ever. It is our one lone document that we’re supposed to put together and pass every year,” said Morrow.
Council decided to go ahead and work on the budget at this meeting.
Lee Moore, councilmember, was concerned with legal and IT expenses. Several individuals said they had addressed that at the August budget meeting that Moore did not attend.
Rich Melton, councilmember, wanted to see more info of trips and travel expenses.
Shute wanted to make funds available for a new police car.
Council reached consensus after Gourley took out a placeholder for leadership and employee engagement and made room for a police car.
Council considered and passed two Planning Commission recommendations for amendments to the Land Development Code.
Council considered adopting a resolution designating the Legal Record as the official newspaper for the city. After discussion, council decided to table the item to the next meeting.