City Council: Overdrive
City Council swept through its business and conference meetings tonight, getting a public hearing, a handful of unanimous votes, a pair of public comments and a query about surplus city-owned properties finished in less than an hour — definitely less time, that is, than it took me to write or you to read this sentence.
All of the agenda items were passed with little comment or dispute, including a $4 million contract for the Walnut Street reconstruction and an amendment to increase parking fines from $25 to $50 if the fine is not paid within ten days. For more details on either of these, see our earlier post in advance of the meeting.
Councilman Tim Buckley used the Walnut Street project as a chance to ask if the city could require contractors to employ local workers for such large-scale public works endeavors. City Attorney George VanNess said that he didn't believe so, but he would have to research it to be absolutely sure.
Things turned defensive for a few Council members as the meeting rolled right on:
First, city resident John Roach took the microphone to rail against a Councilman for calling "a member of city staff" into his ward to look at "something" without first discussing the issue with the full council and "wasting" a half-hour of that staffer's time. Roach did not mention anyone by name and was purposefully vague about the specifics, aiming his attack more at the perceived infraction rather than the individual. Councilman Sam Barone gave an answer as if he were that Councilman in question. Barone felt he had done nothing wrong, and said he has done it before. Isn't it every citizen's right to contact the city code enforcer, for example, if they think a code is in violation? he asked.
"As a citizen in Batavia, I have the right to contact city staff in Batavia," said Barone. "I have been doing this, and as far as I know, it's not a problem."
Council President Charlie Mallow wasn't sure that at the very least the city manager should be notified before a Council member seeks information or services from city staff. He said they could take up the issue at the next conference meeting, scheduled for June 23. (I look forward to the discussion, because I don't really know what our rights are as citizerns to communicate with our local government staffers.)
Later, when Councilman Bob Bialkowski took a few minutes during the conference meeting to ask if the city could auction off its surplus properties, Councilwoman Kathy Briggs got peeved as she took it to be a personal attack on City Manager Jason Molino, who was already looking into how the city should handle its surplus properties. Council had already given him six months to research it, and if they wanted him to consider auctioning off the properties, she said, they "should have told him months ago."
"Let's just let him do his work," she said. "We gave him a task. He's got until August first."
Mallow said it was disrespectful to bring up the issue to Jason at the meeting rather than just contacting him in private with such questions.
"I wish there was more communication with the city manager," he said. "I wish people would just give him a phone call."
Council went immediately into executive session, so I was not able to find out more about the surplus properties issue. But I do have a few questions that I will try to get answered Tuesday. Namely: why Bialkowski wanted to discuss it at that meeting, what exactly the city manager is researching and why Briggs and Mallow felt that such questions at the meeting were out of place.