The actions of the City Council of are directed by the City Charter, City ordinances, and Council Rules of Order and Procedure.
The current Council Rules of Order and Procedure have been under discussion since about 2007 – with each Council reviewing, updating, adopting and then reviewing again. It’s an on-going process.
On Monday, Aug. 13 the City Council will discuss in study session the revisions to the Rules of Order and Procedure suggested by our newest Councilmember, Paulette Carr. I have strong concerns about two suggested revisions –because I believe these suggested changes are not in the best interest of the City or residents. If adopted, the new rules would limit the opportunities for University City residents to actively participate in community planning, and might also hurt University City in a time of crisis or emergency.
Today I would like to discuss my first item of concern.
Our current rules state that special task forces can be established either by the Mayor or by a majority of the Council. When a task force is established, the City supports its work by providing space for meeting, a staff liaison if warranted, and, perhaps, services such as copying. All task force work is performed by citizens on a volunteer basis.
I have established three task forces: one on biking and walking; one on seniors and youth; and one on year-round swimming. I established each one because I received input and requests from residents who felt that the City needed to focus more attention on these topics. This input came from throughout our community – as Mayor, I represent the whole community and hear from and talk with people from all over the City—not just one ward. The task forces were established without any political interference. Each member of Council had the opportunity to appoint members to the task forces but did not have the authority to deny our residents the chance to focus their energy and attention on topics that mattered to them and to get some support from the City while doing so.
Approximately 20 people were appointed to each task force, and many other residents participated in each in some manner, for a period of 12 to 18 months, looking at their chosen issues in depth. Each task force has now made its report and recommendations to the City Council, and has provided Council and staff with invaluable research and direction that, in all likelihood, would not otherwise have occurred.
Councilmember Carr has proposed to change this. At our last meeting on the rules, Ms. Carr started this discussion by saying there has been a “proliferation” of task forces—though there have been only three in my tenure as Mayor. Her suggested change to our rules would require Council approval of all decisions to establish a task force.
In my opinion, that improperly brings politics into this process. Our residents should be able to call upon the City’s support to focus on issues that might not yet be viewed as important by a Council majority or City staff. University City has operated this way for years and, I strongly believe, should continue to do so. Councilmembers are not the only keepers of a vision for a better U City – our residents have a vision, too, and should be encouraged to work for that vision, even when it might not otherwise be taken up by the Council or staff.
Once a task force has completed its work, there is information from which decisions can be intelligently made by Council and staff; before then decisions may be based on assumptions and inertia.
The recently completed work of the Year-Round Aquatics Task Force provides a good example of this. Until the task force made its report I believe most members of Council did not know of the commitments the City made to the concerning the Natatorium when it was first built; how little aquatics programming we provide our tax-paying residents compared to neighboring municipalities; and the real risk of drowning among our residents.
The task force members spent more than a year looking into this issue and presented Council and the School Board with the facts for consideration. This would not have happened without the task force, and the task force might not have ever been established if a politically-driven majority of the Council had chosen not to do so.
The Council already has the authority to establish task forces. So, the true effect of this proposed rule change will be to give to the Council the sole authority to establish task forces. A majority of the Council – just four people -will be able to disregard the wishes of residents who, right now, have a simple and efficient way of getting to work for the benefit of our community.
We should be encouraging citizen participation in this immediate, hands-on way, and not put up barriers to discourage such participation. This proposed change to the Council Rules of Order and Procedure would discourage citizen participation by forcing members of the public to contact and try to convince the Council to support their efforts. That extra work will discourage citizen participation. So, I hope my colleagues agree to retain this rule as currently written.
The Council will discuss this and other rules in a Study Session on Monday, Aug. 13 at 5:30 p.m. in the Council chamber.