Wednesday, December 12, 2012

City Council Meeting

Last night's City Council meeting got rolling fairly late last night.  I didn't turn on the television to watch until after 8 and the public hearings regarding establishment of the two new TIF districts were still going on.

Given that I had been told during earlier in the day that there was no opposition to establishing either TIF district (incidentally, it rather surprised me to hear both Mayor Fritzler and City Manager Kevin Baity refer to the two TIF districts as established rather than proposed in their State of the City speeches.  Neither has been approved by council yet, hence tonight's hearings), the number of people who rose to speak against TIF district #3, encompassing the old school complex, the National Guard Armory and the stretch of Oakland between the two, surprised me. Almost all were concerned with business encroaching into what is currently an area zoned for residential use.  Baity pointed out the area would have to be rezoned in order for a purchaser to make any business use of the properties.

This, of course, leads to two quetsions:

1. Why is Oakland Avenue Auto Repair still operating in an area zoned for residential use?
2.  What use could any purchaser make of either the Armory or high school buildings unless they are rezoned or granted a special use exemption?  Neither is suitable for residential use as they stand.

The proposal to move appointment of the city clerk back under the city manager passed with only one vote against it.  The major concern appeared that the clerk's position was important enough that the holder of the position should come directly under council control.  However, the rest of the council did not share the same concerns.

The request for more funds for the Convention and Tourism Bureau passed without any controversy. Since I sit on the CCTB board, I will pass on making any further comments.

Next up was a revision to Carbondale's panhandling ordinance banning unlawful panhandling on an business zoned property or any public property.  Two groups spoke regarding the ordinance.   One, business owners and organizations representing them argued that aggressive panhandlers affected business, disturbed customers and made employees feel unsafe. The other, community organizers and activists, argued that the ordinance would made it harder for the homeless and others living in poverty to get money for food and shelter.  Councilman Don Monty pointed out that the ordinance had no effect upon those who stood on a corner with a sign asking for donations, it was aimed at those who asked for money multiple times after being rebuffed originally.  If memory serves, I believe this passed, after lots of discussion, six to one.

During the discussion, it gradually became apparent that there are only about a dozen or so panhandlers in Carbondale that engage in the aggressive panhandling that disturbs businesses.  A reading of the relevant ordinance indicates that aggressive panhandling of the type described during the discussion is already illegal throughout the city, so it's not apparent what effect specifying more places where one cannot unlawfully panhandle will have, since according to the current ordinance, they can't do it already.  Seems to me it would be better to enforce the current ordinance against the dozen or so abusers rather than add on to the code.

If electrical aggregation takes place as I understand it from the discussion over the ordinance and we see the savings alluded to by councilmen Chris Wissmann and Don Monty, this should prove a winning proposition for the city and its residents.  From what I understand, Carbondale, along with Marion, West Frankfort and other communities, selected Select Energy Partners  to negotiate an price for electricity with a supplier.  Once a contract is negotiated, Carbondale will have to purchase from that supplier but could choose a different plan than other communities, i.e. Marion could select a plan that draws 10% of its electricity from green sources while Carbondale could choose one that drew 25%.  Carbondale residents will have the option to opt out, on an individual basis, of the negotiated contract and remain with their current (or another) provider.  This passed unaimously.

Finally, council voted to join the Southern Illinois Municipal Planning Organization, which includes all communities from Carbondale eastward to Marion.  The organization will focus on analyzing transportation needs for the area and federal law, dating back to the 1960s, mandates that municipalities must form one once the region's population exceeds 50,000 or forgo federal transportation dollars. Since we don't want to forgo federal transportation dollars, we join, unanimously.

Since it was now 11:30, I decide to skip citizen and council comments, though I did notice council candidates Jessica Bradshaw and Carolin Harvey still in the audience with Pepper Holder approaching the microphone as I left.

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