Monday, November 10, 2008
One of the more common complaints I hear from those who watch Raytown Board of Aldermen meetings on television is that the meetings are difficult to follow. With very little public discussion on many of the items, be they resolutions or ordinances, the headings that are publicly read leave much to be desired to those watching from home. Easily 80% of what the Board votes on in meetings are housekeeping business items. Since the items are public business, the Board must follow statutory requirements in its decision making process. In other words, the public’s business must be conducted in public. Still, the public has a right to know how its tax dollars are spent. At the last meeting of the Board, I addressed that need. Part of the problem is the stilted language used in the headings of resolutions and ordinances read before each vote. For instance, last Tuesday night, three resolutions were read awarding contracts to three different firms. Two of the resolutions were worded exactly the same except for the name of the contractor. Both contained the required (and ambiguous) language “in excess of $10,000, but within the budgeted amounts for the fiscal year 2008 – 2009”. Neither explained exactly what the contracts were for or how much “in excess of $10,000” was to be spent. I suggested that wording be included in the heading telling how much money is anticipated to be spent on each contract so those at home could understand exactly what was going on. This brought an angry retort from Mayor Bower who made quite a show of how the information is in the Board’s legislative packets. He borrowed a word from the recent presidential campaign – transparency – and reminded everyone that all documents considered by the Board are available at City Hall for review. . All of which is true. But waiving around an agenda packet and telling everyone that they can come up to city hall, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8:00 to 5:00 to find out more detailed information is not my idea of “transparency”. I spoke with City Administrator, Mahesh Sharma, after the meeting about the problem. . He told me he would look into expanding the language on agenda items to include more detail. Chalk One Up for the Small Businessman City ordinances require day care operators to obtain state inspections in order to receive a municipal business operators license. Sounds good. But if you are a day care with four or less children under your care, the state will not inspect your business. So by trying to comply with the city ordinance by applying for a license, the small business owner is exposed to prosecution because the state does not inspect such small operations. This came to light when Ward 4 Alderman Pat Ertz made an impassioned plea on behalf of a small day care operator who has run afoul of the city’s ordinances. I made a motion (seconded by Alderman Charlotte Melson) directing city staff to study the problem and come back with suggested solutions for consideration. The Mayor questioned whether or not staff had time to work on the problem. He suggested that other items would have to be set aside to comply with the motion. Ward 3 Alderman Christine White agreed with the Mayor – going so far as to suggest items that should be taken off of the city staff’s plate. Not surprisingly, they included items she has been less than supportive of, like curbside recycling, public smoking legislation and fireworks ban legislation. Alderman Jim Aziere made a pretty good speech about the need for Raytown to become more business friendly. The Board actually spent more time arguing about whether or not city staff should be burdened with the problem, than addressing the problem! At the end of the lengthy discussion, the Board came down on the side of the small day care operator by voting nine to one in support of the motion to re-address day care licensing.