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County development bylaw changes are only proposals

Marion County Commission chairman

After reading newspaper accounts of the last city mayors and County Commission meeting, I felt that although the concerns and issues of everyone present were well reported, I had misgivings that some of the answers provided were not given their just due.

I am not speaking for the County Commission in any way. These are my own personal thoughts.
    Much was made of the county commissioners and the county economic director changing the Marion County Economic Development Council’s bylaws without consulting the county development council. In conjunction, the county also was criticized for poor presentation of the bylaws.

Bylaw changes were not made as stated. At the June meeting of the development council in Goessel, “proposed” changes were presented to the council by the director. Before presenting the proposed changes, the director stated they were only proposed and were being presented for discussion only.

She also stated there would be no votes taken at that meeting pertaining to adopting them. Members’ opinions were sought, not handed to them by the director or the county commission. The changes being proposed were a result of a meeting between mayors and the county commission before the Goessel meeting.

At the earlier meeting, several concerns were expressed. The proposed changes were the county’s attempt to address them.

As for the comment concerning “poor presentation,” in view of the above, I would need some clarification as to what constitutes good presentation.

It was stated and reported that because of bylaw changes, the director could appoint members to the development council if a city mayor failed to do so. The proposed change in fact states the director may “recruit” potential new members and submit their names to the mayors for consideration.

This was an attempt to help a city identify interested people. Four days before the mayor/commission meeting, this very thing took place. The director submitted the name of a resident wishing to be a development council representative to a city needing a representative. The mayor and city council discussed the nominee and subsequently voted to appoint the person.

Another question raised with this bylaw was that it included a provision for the director to submit a nominee to the development council if a city’s mayor failed to act. Mayors at the meeting voiced almost unanimous opposition to this.

After discussion, it was generally agreed that the county commission should instead send a letter to the city council and mayor advising them of the situation. If no action was taken, the matter would be dropped. This has not been discussed or adopted as a proposed change to the bylaws, however.
    Another comment was, “If it’s not broke, do not fix it.” The first meeting between the mayors and county commissioners made it evident that some mayors (mostly small town mayors) did think the development council was broken in some respects. The county commission and director took steps to address their concerns by submitting the proposed changes to the development council for their consideration. The person who made the comment, “If it’s not broke, do not fix it” is not a mayor, is not from a small town, and was not at the first meeting.

Another statement reported was that the director was the only person signing checks for the development council. This is inaccurate. The development council’s treasurer signs checks.  The director has authority to sign checks only when the treasurer is unavailable and there is a critical time issue.

Discussion did identify concern with only one person signing checks no matter who it is. This subject will be discussed, and a proposed bylaw change may be submitted to address this concern.

A bylaws committee was appointed, made up of five members.

For clarification, I do not oppose, in any way, a bylaw committee; I do, however, expect certain considerations concerning their duties. I consider this committee’s purpose to be proper formatting, seeing that proposed changes do not conflict with existing bylaws, and ensuring there are no ambiguities with the wording.

The committee should then submit the proposed changes to the full council for approval and to the county commissioners for final approval. I also would like it to be stipulated who may propose bylaw changes.

At a minimum, I expect to see individual council members, city mayors, the director, and the County Commission.

The word “autonomy” was used frequently about the functional relationship between the development council, the director, and the County Commission. No specifics were given at the mayor/commissioner meeting as to what autonomy entailed. However, at the May development council meeting in Marion, it was stated by a representative that he thought the director should not be involved with development meeting and functions and thus not keep the commission informed as to what was going on.

He also thought that once the commission funded the council, it could look at how the money was spent at the end of the year, and if the commission did not agree, simply not fund the group the following year. A few other council members present agreed with this.

My comment to this is “not on my watch.” Yes, I realize I am only one vote of three but I will oppose this concept vigorously. All county elected officials and department heads have budgets, from which expenditures are monitored by the commission monthly. Additionally all expenditures in excess of $500 require prior commission approval.

I will not support any tax dollar expenditures under more lenient conditions than those for county staff nor will I support the director not being involved with the council.

One mayor questioned the requirement for council members to be active. This mayor thought active needed to be defined. “Active” is addressed in two places, in an existing bylaw and in a proposed bylaw. The existing bylaw addresses attendance at council meetings and committee meetings and is very definitive. Chronic absenteeism (the exact number of missed meetings is spelled out) will result in termination of council membership. However, the council may recommend to a city mayor reinstatement to mitigate extenuating circumstances.

The proposed bylaw has the requirement for council members to participate at “some level” in council functions that promote Marion County. The term “some level” was used in recognition of the fact not everyone can take days off from work, etc., to participate. I feel “some level” may need to be better defined and will ask the director to have members discuss it.

During the first mayor/commission meeting, small-town mayors said they thought representation on the council was fruitless because of membership being based on population (one member per 500 population). The two large cities had almost as many votes as the other 10 cities combined.

They also questioned meetings being held at noon. The small towns do not have paid professionals on staff to attend meetings.

The director and commissioners proposed a bylaw change that retained membership based on population but switched to one town, one vote for all general business. Larger cities still will be able to have all their representatives vote on any committee on which they serve.

This one proposed bylaw precipitated all the controversy in which we are now embroiled. At the Goessel meeting several asked why they should participate if their vote would not count. One small-town member answered, “Now you know how it feels to be a small-town member.”

I leave this to the readers. Should one community, based on population, have a bigger say in anything affecting Marion County as a whole?

At the last mayor/commission meeting, a mayor said the proposed bylaws would reduce representation rather than increase it. If people take offense at what I consider reasonable proposals and want to vote with their feet, so be it. However, perhaps because of the proposed bylaw changes, representation of various cities at the last council meeting was up, not down.

Marion County does not have the time or the resources to prolong this debate. The bylaw issues must be resolved in an equitable and expeditious manner. There are far more important issues deserving our attention.

Last modified July 30, 2009

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