Sunset Hills board OKs compromise on mayor’s naming of special boards

By Mike Anthony

A compromise measure regarding the mayor’s authority to appoint special advisory committees was approved last week by the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen.

Aldermen voted 7-0 to approve the compromise that stipulates the mayor shall inform aldermen when establishing a special advisory committee. Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Webb, who had proposed the compromise, was out of town on business and could not attend the March 14 meeting.

Though the compromise measure was introduced for the first time last week, aldermen agreed to suspend the rules to conduct a second reading and then voted to approve the ordinance.

The approved ordinance is an addition to an existing ordinance regarding the mayor’s authority and states, “When appointing advisory bodies not specifically delineated in the municipal code, the mayor shall inform the Board of Aldermen (of) the name and purpose of the body prior to the scheduled date of the initial meeting — electronic notification is preferred.”

Aldermen last month conducted a first reading of a proposed ordinance that would have required the mayor to obtain aldermanic approval before establishing special advisory committees. That proposal, authored by Ward 2 Alderman Scott Haggerty and supported by a majority of aldermen at the Feb. 28 meeting, was opposed by Mayor Bill Nolan and four former mayors — John Hunzeker, Jim Hobbs, Kenneth Vogel and Nancy Benson.

The original proposal stated, “The mayor, with the consent and approval of a majority of the members of the Board of Aldermen, may also establish committees, boards, commissions and/or any other advisory board in addition to those specifically delineated in the Code of Ordinances.”

At the Feb. 28 meeting, opponents of the original proposal noted the mayor has had the ability to appoint special committees since the city’s inception. They contended the measure would encroach on the mayor’s executive authority and curtail citizen involvement on special committees.

During a period for public comment at that meeting, several residents, including some who served on committees established by Nolan, opposed the proposed ordinance. Some who served on Nolan-appointed committees said they would not do so again if the ordinance was approved by the Board of Aldermen.

But aldermanic proponents last month said the issue was one of notification, as some elected officials learned of the establishment of some advisory bodies in the city newsletter or in the press.

At the Feb. 28 meeting, Webb proposed a revision to the original proposal that would not require the mayor to obtain aldermanic approval when establishing special advisory committees, but would stipulate the mayor shall inform aldermen when appointing such a committee.

“… The revision in and of itself, requires that the mayor provide advance notice to the Board of Aldermen — not approval. It satisfies what I understood to be the biggest concern in terms of communication …,” Webb said Feb. 28.

Though Webb was not at last week’s meeting, City Clerk Laura Rider read a statement from Webb regarding his compromise.

“… Clearly, I do not believe any of us desire to revisit the various points made on either side of the argument at that (Feb. 28) meeting. The opposing opinions on this controversial subject are understood, and I am very pleased that we have found some common ground on which we can all support,” Webb stated.

“My compromise language distributed prior to our last meeting, and as recently improved upon by (Ward 2) Alderman (Thomas) Hrastich, is a wonderful example of how we as a board can come together to solve an issue, if given the opportunity to do so. Healthy debate and dialogue is always welcome and should be encouraged,” the statement continued.

“After all, communication, openness and transparency are the pillars of what we do in municipal government. But such interaction must be inclusive, not exclusive, as we move forward as civic leaders,” Webb stated. “Along those lines, I truly believe this is an area that we can and always should try to improve upon as a team moving forward.

“The breakdown in communication concerning (the original proposal) between some aldermen and other aldermen, as well as between some aldermen and the mayor, is counterproductive, in my humble opinion. We all know that human nature tends to cause us to gravitate toward comfort zones and only those groups that share the same opinions and perspectives.

“But if we, as the Board of Aldermen in Sunset Hills, really want to preserve our proud history and continually enhance the quality of life here in this fine community, we must seek out opposing views and better understand all sides, whether they be held by citizens or other public officials. This openness and transparency must include accessibility by the public to such electronic communications and discussions. I feel strongly that this experience has reminded all of us of our elected duties in this regard, but it is clearly something we must intentionally focus on at all times …,” Webb’s statement concluded.