- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
On Sept. 13, before the La Plata Town Council voted on the Walmart Supercenter issue, I recommended that the citizens be able to vote on major issues that significantly alter our town to enable council members to know the opinion of their constituents and they be bound to vote accordingly.
I received no response and Sept. 27, the council voted 3-2 in favor of the annexation. Sometime after this, I was informed that such a vote is illegal.
On May 22, before the town council, I recommended that a survey or data collection similar to a vote occur on major issues affecting the town, the results of which would be nonbinding on council members prior to their vote. So as to not allow this suggestion to die on the vine, on June 19 I asked for each town council member to publically respond to this suggestion at their business meeting. This request was half-heartedly answered and even treated, by some, with indignation much as it was by some, I am told, at the June 12 work session. This reaction is both baffling and troublesome.
Finally, Councilman Joseph W. Norris, who appeared upset for reasons unknown, urged me to commit my concerns to writing and the mayor echoed this request and alluded to a similar comment he made to me in response to a letter I wrote on Feb. 28. The problem I have with the method is twofold.
First, in the mayor’s response to my letter of Feb. 28, he failed to adequately address all of my concerns, choosing to ignore some altogether. Second, it defeats the purpose of publicly informing citizens of the actual position that an individual council member has with regard to my request. Nevertheless, I’ll give it yet another college try.
For background purposes, no one is attempting to usurp the authority of any town council member. I understand representative government. I get it. We elect them to represent us and for most issues this is adequate. Some issues (not just annexations) are too community-altering forever going forward, often after many elected officials have left the political scene and/or the town altogether.
At times, once decisions are made they become irreversible. In a small town it becomes critical for our elected officials to have all of the information from citizen input and it is possible, with certainty, and with little effort to obtain. Even though some citizens may choose not to participate, all will have an equal opportunity through this proposal.
This process, I suggest, should be used sparingly. It is my belief that there are only a few issues in our recent past that would even qualify for this consideration. Some examples might include Rosewick Crossing, Agricopia, Super Walmart, Kohl’s department store at U.S. 301 and Oriole Lane (not an annexation), Edelen Station (not an annexation), and Hawthorne Yards-Rainbow Construction (upcoming). There may exist other examples, but not that many.
A nonbinding issues survey would be a process for council members to collect data from their constituents on an issue they deem necessary prior to voting.
The process should be used for issues in which two or more (could be three or more) council members request it.
A public hearing on the issue should be held prior to the council members requesting the survey to determine whether to employ this process.
A period of time should elapse after the public hearing is held to enable the process to be advertised in the Town Notes, which is already mailed to each household, preventing additional expense.
Only residents of the town who are registered with the county/town can participate in the survey.
The survey question should be written by the town council members in a way that can easily be answered with a simple for-or-against response.
The survey itself could be administered through email and/or in person at town hall.
The administration of the survey could be conducted in one day by volunteers under the supervision of the town manager during working hours.
The paper surveys at Town Hall should be color-coded by ward and when added together with the email votes, also conducted by ward, would provide a total for each ward.
Results, by ward, should be provided to the public prior to the town council vote.
Again, survey results would be nonbinding on council members and be used as another piece of data to be considered prior to voting. And since I’ve been asked to put this in writing, I am requesting that each council member respond to me in written form or to make this letter a part of the public forum at the next televised business meeting so that each can respond with specifics as to exactly their position on this matter. Additionally, one can only imagine where the town would be regarding the Super Walmart issue had such a process been in place prior to the Sept. 27 vote.
Quite possibly, the votes may have been different, the referendum unnecessary, and the legal mess in which the town finds itself might never have happened.
Michael J. Runfola, La Plata