In recent weeks, a group of area residents calling themselves “Monticello Citizens for Better Government” have taken the charge to circulate several petitions to repeal our city’s only avenue to help keep our city clean, enact some new proposals, and to recall me from of office of mayor.
I have avoided a response to these individuals efforts to date, allowing the opportunity for me to get a better understanding of the issues. Last week, I sent an open letter to the organizers, encouraging them that the city, and myself, value any concerns that any resident may have. I reminded them that city hall is alway open, and requested the opportunity for these individuals to have an open conversation about their concerns, and an opportunity for the city to address their concerns directly. As we would anyone’s concerns.
I have always welcomed Monticellonians to bring their concerns to me about our city and community. In my time as mayor, I have received reports of concerns from citizens in the form of formal letters, emails, and person conversations in the bread aisle of the grocery. I even often answer three to four questions, or concerns, a week via private Facebook messages. To date, I have heard no word from these individuals about working with city government to address their concerns.
In my open letter, I reiterate the fact that, from what I can gather from media coverage, several proposals of their proposals, at face value, I could possibly be supportive of; and in that event, I would be willing to work with City Council on these proposals.
In an public effort of good faith, I would like to follow-up on this comment; and put action to my words. Two of the concerns, that seem to be presented by these individuals, are non-partisan election of municipal officials and public commentary at City Council meetings.
As one of my first acts in office, I issued the city’s first Open Government Directive. The directive established new principles to help guide city government’s actions intended to commit to transparency, meaningful public participation, and collaborating with the public and other governments.
In addition to providing a city website where meeting agendas, ordinances, etc. are published and are open to the public a week in advance of meetings, reporting weekly to the public on municipal issues, and requiring for the first time a public forum period at government meetings.
The policies adopted around public commentary at public meetings, were never intended to limit public comments, but be a requiring period, for the first time, promised to the public for their time in front of the City Council. Anyone who wished to address the Monticello City Council on an item can either request to be placed on the agenda one week in advance of the meeting, or can request to speak during a public hearing period at the end of the meeting.
To show that the intent of the rules was not to limit debate, I have signed a mayoral directive amending the rule allowing residents to request to speak on an agenda item at the time the issue is being considered during the meeting. Before City Council discussion and a vote, residents may request to speak before the meeting is called to order to speak for three minutes on that agenda item. An open public hearing period, for residents to speak on issues not on the agenda, will still remain at the ending business.
Secondly, I am in agreeance with the proposal to make municipal officials nonpartisan (as opposed to requiring them to file Democrat and Republican). Although I am an active democrat, there is nothing Democrat or Republican about running a city. Fixing potholes, developing parks, or providing clean water are not partisan issues, they are city issues. The Arkansas Municipal League reports, Monticello is one of only eight first class cities that still has partisan elections. Arkansas law allows the City Council to move to nonpartisan elections within a timeline. I pledge to work with the City Council to develop a proposal to move toward nonpartisan elections. This would not affect this November’s general election, but can change the process for the 2018 general election.
Our town can’t afford to have the politics of the national stage, where people with different ideas won’t even sit in the same room with each other. Our city is too important. The challenges that face us in the 21st Century are too complex for us to be divided as a community. We must work and collaborate together if we are to address these challenges. We must welcome diverse ideas and blend them with others to develop more powerful compromises that improve our city, and continue our forward thinking.