Saturday, February 23, 2008

Agenda Awareness

City government is downright fascinating. Reading the tentative agenda for the next Fayetteville City Council is an educational experience not to be missed. Thanks to our outstanding citizen activist, Jeff Erf, you can view it online and comment on the upcoming issues -- a feature curiously unavailable on the taxpayer-funded city website that assumes public information is a top-down, one-way process.

Among the items scheduled on the March 4th "non-controversial" consent agenda are three contracts with out-of-state computer software firms totaling more than $130,000 for the year. For that, we get software updates and technical phone support to the city's information technology staff. Maybe they can add a comments feature to the official council agenda and the mayor's official blog that would allow citizens to offer feedback and opinions.

Also on the consent agenda is a proposal to grant a variance to developer Chainsaw Gary Combs who ignored the law and removed existing tree canopy to build a strip mall on Huntsville Road. He and his engineer, Thomas Hennelly, have told the city staff that reforesting the site to the required 20% canopy plus the 10% penalty for unauthorized clearing of trees (including a 16" ash) would be inconvenient and make the venture less profitable. Not only would they have to pay the cost of replanting new trees to replace those they illegally destroyed, they might have to remove a building from the planned commercial mecca or have a smaller parking lot. Instead, Combs wants to get out of the replanting penalty by giving a preservation easement on some nearby trees in an area less suitable for commercial development.

On the regular agenda under new business is a Resolution directing the City Attorney to draft a new water and sewer rate ordinance with rates that better reflect cost-of-service and encourage conservation. It will actually lower rates for some residential customers, and the Water and Sewer Committee is to be commended for bringing this forward. The Cowbirds and their house organ won't like it, but it is a vast improvement over what the Mayor's out-of-state consultants and staff first proposed.

Mayor Coody is also pushing a resolution to approve an interlocal agreement for ambulance service, establish a new ambulance authority bureaucracy with no city control of service or costs, and give a no-bid monopoly for service to Central EMS. It is supported by Fire Chief Tony Johnson who has developed a reputation for supporting anything and everything the Mayor wants and by County Administrator John Gibson who has a conflict of interest as a member of the CEMS Board.

I thought that the ambulance committee had already decided to continue the present system for another year and to take bids to secure the best price for this essential service. And no one has explained why it is just fine for Springdale to operate independently while trying to blame Fayetteville for seeking the best service for taxpayers. The Northwest Arkansas Times, a member of the Chamber of Cowbirds, says the City Council should hurry up and approve it and quit worrying about "what's best for Fayetteville."

You'll find the supporting documentation for all this here. Then you can make up your own mind and let our elected officials know what the people think and want them to do.

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