Transparency clarified

Rather than continue to complain that city staff and Council members have failed at transparency (see the News and Locally Grown and more Locally Grown) let’s see what we could have done differently.

Here is what happened from an email sent to me (and city attorney Chris Hood and Mayor Mary Rossing) by Joel Walinski:

I’ve always approached the issue to provide the council with information first, and then to the general public so the council is not caught in the position of being unaware. The timeline could occur differently.    In this particular case, I spoke with Chris Hood on how best to accomplish this. The three priorities were to provide council with the information provided by the City Attorney of the standing of the joint resolution and the sequencing of events. To provide the Waterford Township Board a notification and information about the upcoming council discussion as I had agreed to previously with John Dudley on any Waterford related matters. Number three to provide the information publicly for the community to review. Chris and I met in late December and reviewed the procedure and information to be disbursed first to the council, then to Waterford, then publicly.We discussed what information would be given to the council, legal opinion and timeline, and the reminder to be given to the council not to discuss this issue amongst themselves until January 19 meeting. In early 2010, I then began to meet individual council members and Mayor Rossing,    I do not recall meeting and discussing the process with Mayor Rossing to confirm the process to be used or the way it was to be accomplished. I had spoken with her earlier in 2009 that the Joint Resolution and payments to Waterford would need to be discussed and addressed by the Council some time early in 2010. At the agenda review for January 4, 2009 I did inform her that the Waterford item would be on the January 19, 2010 agenda and I had Chris providing a legal opinion on the Joint Resolution.   Again, I know there are a number of different approaches that can be taken to the timing of providing the council with information and the general public. I would welcome the open discussion of how the council would best like to achieve that end. I would concur with adding it to the agenda on Tuesday evening as a discussion item. This can be added as an item as it is a regular scheduled meeting and this is a discussion item.

I spoke with Mayor Rossing Friday afternoon and suggested that a better process would have looked something like this:

1. Council acts (action – that takes a motion or resolution, made and seconded, approved by a majority of the Council, recorded in the minutes) to direct staff to review the annexation agreement with Waterford.  As a courtesy to Waterford, Joel Walinski could then tell Waterford supervisors we’d done this and further information would be forthcoming.    I believe it is long past time that this agreement be reviewed as part of good governance – do we know what’s in our agreements, are they still appropriate and what changes should we be making?   Ideally, we could then move on to negotiate a new agreement with Waterford to take us into the future.

2. City attorney reviews agreement and makes his recommendation. The item is placed on a worksession agenda and the legal memo is distributed and discussed at the worksession.  All Council members and the public recieve the information at the same time.  Council can ask questions of the City attorney and next steps can be planned in public.   Downside from Mr Walinski’s perspective would be that Waterford would not have the “courtesy” of an early warning.  My answer: the citizens of Northfield should get the information as early and completely as possible.   Providing the memo at a worksession means it would not go out with the worksession packet leaving citizens and press to speculate all weekend, but would provide the information to all Council members at once in the open.  There would be no secrecy – real or imagined.

3. Council directs staff to put the agreement on the next Council agenda for action. Joel Walinski calls Waterford to tell them of the upcoming meeting and invites comments in person or in writing.  A copy of the meeting packet is sent to Waterford.

4. Council meets and acts on the memo by deciding to accept the attorney’s recommendation or reject his recommendation.  Council provides reasons for their actions. Waterford has the opportunity to comment and the Council to receive their comments.

An alternative: Mayor Rossing calls Waterford supervisors to keep them informed.  As the chief elected official, it would seem even more courteous for her to contact the Waterford elected officials than to have staff do this.

No secrecy or confidentiality required.  Public informed.  Press has access to information.  Councilmembers saved hours of time because they don’t have to explain themselves.   Council gives the direction; staff implements it.

Next steps: I would like a new annexation agreement with Waterford which looks to the future rather than clinging to the past.  We should sit down and reach an agreement about our shared interests in how our edge develops (or doesn’t develop).  We need Waterford as a willing negotiator, not a roadblock, in this matter.

Additional news surrounding this issue: Chris Hood has provided a pro forma memo that we didn’t violate the open meeting law.  Mark Johnson, attorney for Waterford, has send a letter advising us that Waterford is conducting their own investigation of the agreement and the open meeting law question and asking that we delay action.

8 thoughts on “Transparency clarified

  1. Thanks, Councilor Buckheit for this detailed outline of a better process…
    I do have a question: the memo from Chris Hood is dated the 14th of January; according to councilor statements recorded in the newspaper, councilors started meeting with the Administrator earlier in the week… Jon Denison first, on Monday.
    It seems important to me when councilors were asked by Mr. Walinski for input as to their receptiveness, given the instruction from Mr. Hood on page 3, item C, of his memo.

    Can you comment?

    • That would be the memo Re: Open Meeting Law requirements, correct? There is also the December 30 memo regarding the 1980 Annexation agreement which Council members were given in their individual meetings with Joel Walinski and a corrected version of that memo dated January 12 included in the Council packet for our January 19 meeting (the corrections were only to the amount of reimbursement to Waterford). Is the question about whether we were, in fact, asked for input? Or is it a timing question that I don’t quite understand?

  2. Pingback: Northfield is on the move! 17 Jan 2010 « Contented Cow’s Politics and a Pint

  3. Yes, I was referring to the OML memo… not knowing the others you refer to existed.
    Since it has been stated that some councilors were asked for ‘input’ i.e. receptiveness to the idea, did this occur before or after the OML memo, and its page 3, item C instruction?

    • It would have been before. Chris Hood produced the 1/14 memo in response to the News article and other complaints surrounding the process.

    • Oh, the other memos were 2 versions of the confidential memo we were given at those individual sessions with Joel Walinski. The 12/30 memo is Chris Hood’s opinion on the status of the Waterford annexation agreement.

  4. Betsey,

    I have concerns about the spirit that Northfield brought into these discussions. Townships are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to annexation agreements.

    To have this examined so early in Attorney Hood’s tenure seems imprudent and bullish. One of the supposed reasons that we hired Attorney Hood is that he was a “specialist” in this area. But, this is no way to treat your neighbor, especially one who is holding all the cards.

    I think the Council needs to give clear direction to Attorney Hood – unless we approve the work beforehand, you aren’t going to get paid. Otherwise, you run the risk that you just ran into.

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