COLUMBIA, 12/21/10 (Beat Byte) -- First Ward Columbia Councilman Paul Sturtz issued the following statement at Monday night's meeting:
I have to say something that's going to be awkward to say as it gets to our entire process. But it needs to be said in a public forum.
Over the course of the last year, I have increasingly become uncomfortable with the way the City Council is treated by city staff and the mayor's office. It seems that for a number of important decisions we are seen as an impediment to a smoothly running bureaucracy. I want to make it clear I'm not talking about Council micromanaging details but in setting of major policy that affects the citizens that elected us.
The latest one-two punch to the Council’s standing has happened in the last few weeks. First we learned that city staff wrote a letter to the EPA signed by the mayor which says the city objects to the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Water Act in regards to the Hinkson Creek.
This important matter was never brought to Council discussion, and so it was highly inappropriate for the letter to say "The City believes this or The City objects to that." It’s become clear that we need to reinforce the obvious: that the "City of Columbia" in our official dealings must reflect the desires of Council, who are elected to represent the will of the people.
A week earlier, I read in the Columbia Business Times about a major stormwater variance given by city staff to IBM in the spring. Finding out this way -- instead of through a staff report back then subject to Council input -- is a sign of disrespect to us as elected officials and by extension the people of Columbia.
Hearing from a newspaper reporter and from a citizen about these two developments was embarrassing to me, as I have worked hard to stay on top of my duties as a Council representative -- even if sometimes scant reporting from certain departments have left me with insufficient information to make an informed decision.
Unfortunately, the two cases I’ve cited are not unique. On May 15, city staff organized a welcoming celebration to IBM that attracted hundreds of people and was covered widely. This was one full week before Council had the opportunity to publicly review and discuss the agreement with IBM. We were basically told that we needed to approve it as written, or else the deal would be nullified.
To say the least, this put us in a terribly awkward situation wherein any objections to any element of the agreement would mean we'd go down as the people who chased 800 jobs out of town.
I can give other examples from the previous mayor, such as Mr. Hindman sending a letter to AmerenUE on city letterhead offering support of its efforts to repeal the state's Construction Work in Progress law which protects consumers from having to pay for costly nuclear plants. And I can offer more.
The point is that city staff in conjunction with the mayor have gotten much too comfortable with skirting the oversight and input from the Council in setting policy.
This is clearly wrong, and it must stop. I would like to see this change immediately and for any new city manager to take heed of our charter as he or she comes on board. As citizens and as Council members we deserve this.
And evidently we must demand this.