- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A town resident asked the La Plata Town Council on Tuesday once again to consider a survey of residents on major issues.
Michael Runfola asked the council at its June 19 business meeting to consider the survey, and the council asked Runfola to submit suggestions in writing while noting difficulties such as lack of participation.
The council discussed the possibility of a major issues survey at a June 12 session after Councilwoman Paddy Mudd suggested it, saying that there was no way to determine at public hearings what the opinions of the town residents actually are.
Mudd said she had received the idea of the survey from four town residents, none of whom were Runfola.
This time around, Runfola asked council members to give their thoughts again since he had not heard a reply from the town since submitting a letter after a June 19 meeting.
Runfola also said the town could do a survey that is color-coded by ward and allows online input to allow people to see the breakdown by ward.
Mayor Roy Hale read his response, which he prepared to give to Runfola in the form of a letter.
Hale said that the survey would be a major change in the town’s form of government and only should be changed after careful analysis and that the change is substantively better than existing processes.
“I concur that knowing the will of the people on key issues is very important in governing effectively, and there should be procedures and opportunities in place to gather this critical information. I believe that the procedures and opportunities that we have in place that have met the test of time are an effective means of providing the council with important information from town residents on major issues affecting the community,” Hale said.
The downside of Runfola’s proposal, he said, was that in his view it shifts responsibilities, which have been assigned to elected representatives historically and by state charter, from the town council to the voters.
Hale said he would be more inclined to understand the need to change the form of government if Runfola acquired signatures from 20 percent of the town’s registered voters, the same amount needed for a referendum.
Besides the objection from the council’s decision to approve the annexation involving a Walmart Supercenter, Hale said he did not perceive a major movement to change the town’s government, and that ultimately not everyone will agree on decisions made by the council.
Other council members chimed in after Hale read his statement.
“When there are issues you mention, like the Kohl’s at Oriole Lane, we went down and listened to people,” Councilman Wayne Winkler said.
A proposal to put a Kohl’s near Oriole Lane in the town did not come to fruition due to the lack of a traffic crossover, Winkler said.
“With the Walmart issue I listened to a lot of people. I changed my vote based off what I heard, especially from seniors relying on VanGO. I think we do listen,” Winkler said, adding that upcoming issues like a possible change to the Heritage Green annexation agreement will have two public hearings and people will have plenty of time to speak.
Winkler said he agreed with Hale.
Mudd said her suggestions for a major issues survey were “barely considered,” and that other polling methods, such as “snap polls” in the town newsletter and questions in the National Citizen Survey, were not adequate.
“The comments [at public hearings] are not necessarily from voting residents. I am very concerned. I believe in representative government, but we need a way for residents to be better heard,” Mudd said.
Councilman Keith Back noted that now Hale asks speakers to give their name, address and whether they reside in the town, but added that perhaps the town could have two separate sign-in sheets — one for town residents and one for everyone else.
Back said that many methods are available for town residents to give their input, whether speaking at the public hearings, writing emails or letters, making phone calls or having conversations with him in person.
Back also said it was important for residents to give their name and address when giving input; otherwise he does not consider it.
Hale said that for the duration of his 15 years on the town council, the number of people attending the July 24 meeting has been the average number of people typically attending town business meetings.
At Tuesday’s meeting, there were five audience members.
Councilman Joseph Norris was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.