Clarksville, TN – The Clarksville City Council met in its usual first Thursday of the month regular session – Thursday, March 6th, 2014. A couple of items of interest were covered at the meeting.
The council met in an early session starting at 6:30pm to have a presentation of a “potential” new athletic complex. This presentation provided a few more details of the project that the mayor first exposed at the “State of The City” several weeks ago.It appears that two “potential” sites for such a park are on Tiny Town Road (between Trenton Road and Needmore Road) and at Exit 8 (across from the entrance of the Industrial Park).
The complex would be several hundred acres in size with a variety of different athletic fields. The inclusion of some covered facilities and possibly an ice rink are on the drawing board.
There were a number of questions asked and answers were general or not known/disclosed. It was claimed that no costs had been calculated and no timetables established. The mayor had alluded during the “State of the City” that some budgeting for the new complex could be seen in the upcoming budget.
(Council member McLaughlin’s request for map information to do research for her constituents)
This resolution provided another interesting round in local politics. At issue, is it the right/responsibility of council members to request the retrieval of data that resides in a collection system or formatting of such data into a usable form from a city department or other governmental organization in order to address issues that constituents ask of them? The simply answer in my opinion is yes.
To me, that is part of the job. However, that job ability or requirement is not spelled out in the city charter in plain language. As is well known, requests by some council members in trying to attain information for the purpose of performing research and presenting factual information to address the needs of the constituent, is akin to “pulling teeth” with the current city administration.
When someone on the council requests information that will require some data retrieval or building of documentation it must have the acknowledgment or approval of the administration. If the administration does not wish to cooperate it will cite Article II, Section 15 of the city charter, which states:
“The council shall act in all matters as a body, and no member shall seek individually to influence the official acts of the mayor or any other officer or employee of the city…………or to interfere in any way with the performance of duties by any officer or employee.”
It seems that if a council member’s data/information request does not correlate with administration needs or desires, then such a request seems to be categorized as interfering with the performance of duties of those associated with the city. As such, a simple information request becomes a major legislative effort that has to come before the council to get approved, since we “shall act in all matters as a body”.
If the results appeared promising, then the next step of presenting a concept with the supporting documentation to the council and/or Planning Commission could be accomplished. If the data did not support the assumptions or expectations that had started the request, then the inquiring constituents would be told this and no further action would be taken.
This simple request could have been easily taken care of when it wound up on the desk of the city mayor. The data resides at the Planning Commission and two hours of work would be required to collect and build the information files/maps being requested. Similar such requests had been handled in past years with a simple email or letter request without review of the mayor.
The charter section previously mentioned was invoked on this request. In addition, the council member was told that state law states if the requested data was not in a form normally used or provided, the government entity was not obligated to build a special file or data form.
It seemed there would be no easy path for Councilwoman McLaughlin to conduct her research. The data is in the computer systems, it can be provided in the format requested and will take about two hours to do. To shorten this recap, the mayor offered to ask/direct the Planning Commission to provide the data for only McLaughlin’s ward.
This half action would not provide the full analysis or answers McLaughlin needed. The same data collection and formatting effort was involved whether it was one or three wards. The administration decided that if she wanted the data from the other two wards included, then she could file an information request and pay the costs associated with that work or bring it to the council for review and consideration a basically a city request.
There was a major discussion that I initiated as to why was a city charter requirement (acting as a body… interfering with the performance of duties by any officer or employee) being invoked on the request to the Planning Commission. It is clear by operation, authority, personnel documentation and payroll that the Commission is not a department nor employees or officers of the city.
This led to legal comments that this was a gray area. In the end the Planning Commission staff answer to the Planning Commission board that oversees it. The city is a member of that board. This muddied the need to vote even more, but the administration was determined the issue would be voted on.
The vote was taken and by a margin of 7-yes and 4-no, the council sided with Councilwoman McLaughlin that the city should request the data for the purposes she stated. I voted yes and the missing vote was Councilman Harris who left the meeting early. This is where it got very interesting.
With the vote displayed on the board (7-yes & 4-no) a silence of 18 seconds follows. The mayor then states, “ obviously it isn’t going to matter if I vote or not”. This was a CLEAR statement that she was not happy with the outcome of the vote and that McLaughlin would get all of the data requested. She then proceeds to give a dissertation as to why this was not the right approach in having McLaughlin conduct such research and that experts should be involved.
It seems the mayor kept missing the point that if the data collected provided specific results, then having experts come and look would be the next step. There should not have been any problem with a council member wanting to study the issue first on behalf of the constituents.
The mayor ended by stating, “I am just truly amazed that we have gotten here”. (You can watch the council tape ( http://clarksvilletn.swagit.com/play/03062014-786 )) listed as Item 13. The comments I have referenced can be viewed within the last two minutes of the item 13 segment)
She starts to talk about the next agenda item and then jumps back to say, “I’m kinda a little bit troubled by what just what happened (referencing the discussion and vote) and the fact that we had to get to that point to, I believe prove a point that I am not sure why we are there and why we have done this, and I guess I’m just amazed”. (You can watch the council tape listed as Item 14, as the item I referenced is in the first 40 seconds of the tape).
I too am amazed that council members continually have to go to such lengths and fight such battles to do the job their constituents expect of them.