‘No’ vote by Miguel delays final action on Crestwood citizen review panel

By BURKE WASSON

Efforts to vote on a proposed citizen review committee for Crestwood’s capital improvement fund once again were delayed by the city’s Board of Aldermen.

During the board’s March 28 session, Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel voted against a second reading of the committee bill — essentially stalling the board’s decision until at least its April 11 meeting. Under the City Charter, at least one week must elapse between introduction and final passage of an ordinance unless an immediate second reading is approved by unanimous vote of the Board of Aldermen.

The proposal, originally introduced months ago by board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2, calls for a citizen review committee to meet twice each year to monitor spending in the city’s capital improvement sales tax fund. The committee would include one citizen member from each of Crestwood’s four wards, the president of the Board of Aldermen and the city administrator. Committee members must be 21, reside in Crestwood for at least one year before appointment and not serve on any other city board or committee. Under the proposal, each committee member would serve a one-year term.

Mayor Roy Robinson proposed to the aldermen that they make any revisions to the bill that they believe are necessary before the April 11 meeting, but also voiced displeasure that the current board is trying to move the bill through before the newly elected board can decide on the issue.

While Trueblood has said he believes the committee would be yet another way that Crestwood government could improve its credibility, Miguel said in a prepared statement at the March 28 meeting that the proposed committee would have too much “free rein” and would essentially put the Board of Aldermen in a “straitjacket.”

“I don’t know the motivation behind the bill,” he said. “I do know that the effect will be to put the board in a straitjacket. And it will go a long way to remove whatever financial flexibility this city may have.”

Both Miguel and Robinson said they oppose Trueblood’s proposal because such a committee is not needed and would only inhibit the Board of Aldermen’s powers.

But Ward 4 Alderman Joseph O’Keefe repeatedly said he does not see any reason why aldermen should discourage an additional form of citizen participation.

“I don’t see what everybody’s afraid of here,” O’Keefe said. “I don’t see any free rein with this committee. Their free rein is to review the budget and to review the expenditures and tell us what they think just like anybody else here can do. I don’t see any problem with it. I think it’s just like our committees we have where the mayor appoints them from each ward, which I think is great, and it’s approved by the majority of the board.”

The review committee vote was delayed at the end of the board’s meeting when Miguel cast a “no” vote for a second reading saying, “I don’t know what I’m voting for.”

Miguel also expressed dismay earlier in the meeting when he said that the committee proposal he found on his desk before the session was “substantially different from what I received at the last meeting.” He said he was discouraged that the version he was viewing March 28 did not have the definition of capital improvement in its contents.

However, City Clerk Kimberly Cottle said to Miguel that the proposal left on his desk March 28 was the same version that he had seen in the packet of the board’s March 14 meeting.

Nevertheless, Miguel proceeded to voice his displeasure with the proposed committee because of worries that it would take away power from the Board of Aldermen when the board itself should be accountable for its own actions.

“In my opinion, this bill has too many defects,” Miguel said. “First and foremost, it’s the board’s job to know what proposed uses (from the capital improvement fund) are proper and those that are not proper. And it must know what actual expenditures were proper and which were not. And it needs to hold accountable.”

Besides accountability issues, Robinson also said he believes Crestwood city government is as open and transparent as he believes it should be and that anyone can already request budget information from the city. To form a committee designed to watch over the board’s spending — Robinson said — is unnecessary.

“I, like Alderman Miguel, feel that this committee — even with its good intentions — has no need to the city,” Robinson said. “We have plenty of oversight from the people in this community. We have people who attend Ways and Means Committees. They come to our budget meetings. The people that are really interested and would be willing to do this, they come to these things.”

But Trueblood and O’Keefe defended the proposal by saying that it is simply another way to establish more trust with the citizens.

“I don’t see any problem with bringing a group of people together to look at capital improvement,” O’Keefe said. “I agree it’s not necessarily the only fund, but I think it’s a good start because like I said last time we talked about this, this fund is in good shape.

“I don’t understand the problem. I think what’s neat about a committee like this, unlike people who may not be able to attend every single Board of Aldermen meeting or keep up with community groups that might take up a lot of time, you could get a group of professionals — a group of citizen professionals — that the mayor appoints and the board agrees with. They can meet periodically after looking at the budget and the expenditures and not necessarily have to take the time away from their families and their professions to attend every single Board of Aldermen meeting and every single Ways and Means Committee meeting and have to worry about the minutia of what we debate on on a regular basis.”