There were several surprises at the Town Council retreat #2 this past Saturday morning. (The first retreat was in February and the staff did not feel they had direction so this additional retreat was scheduled). The first surprise was the retreat itself was truly a “retreat” in every sense of the word since not one private citizen or even member of the press showed up! The meeting was advertised with public notice, etc. as usual, so I guess the 70 degree sunny weather and a host of fun community events in town kept people away.
The second surprise was that the Council decided to direct staff to report back on how the council might approach revising the comprehensive plan (of 2000). This was a surprise since the council had expected to receive the report and advice of the Sustainability Visioning Task Force this month on how the Town should grow, and use that information in creating a plan and vision for growth. Instead the council may go back to the existing framework of the comprehensive plan, and we will have the manager report back on how we might use that plan and information that came out of the Task Force. Apparently, from what I was told, the Task Force was not able to formally complete its charge or task but did come up with some good guiding principles generally that we might be able to use. I’ll be interested to learn more about this when the Task Force chair presents on where the Task Force ended up.
The third surprise was more of a business meeting type of agenda item, since the Mayor reported back on his meeting with the chair of the Orange County Commission and their manager on the status of the Library and the possible increase of county funding. However with a brief intro about the fact that a meeting was held over lunch, the Mayor went on to announce that he has a mini council task force in mind that would be charged with meeting with the commissioners and negotiating how much the county will fund the library (if at all) over the next several years and put that in some sort of writing. The mayor picked Sally Greene who has publicly stated she wants to expand the library right now, and Gene Pease who is leaning towards expansion and working out the financial equity situation at the same time. Apparently Mark had already talked with Sally about this prior to the retreat, but had not yet informed Gene (who willingly agreed to participate).
I raised issue with this whole thing at first because Sally does not share my opinion on the library, and I’m not sure how she can go forward representing me when I don’t agree with her and when her sole goal is to work out a financial arrangement with the county. But she agreed that she would mention that there was not uniform agreement on the council about how to proceed. I also raised an issue about this because this process is moving forward with the total effort on how we can squeeze more money out of the county….(if we can) and nothing to do with my petition of a couple months ago (and Gene’s) about the consequences of charging nonresidents a card, and the possibility of doing that and waiting a year to see how usage would drop at the library and see how that might affect the expansion. So apparently work will continue on that petition simultaneously.
Mark mentioned from his lunch meeting that the county would not be increasing their allotment this year at all, any increase would occur in later years. Everything ended up with a general agreement that these two council will meet with Barry Jacobs (and another commissioner) and their manager (with our manager) and try to get the county to agree to some sort of phasing of increased contributions and put it on paper, and then report back to the council in May. Along the way our manager will be providing information on what would happen if we charged nonresidents a certain fee, and I asked that he also provide information on if usage dropped by X % then what would that mean in terms of physical need for expansion of the library. Decision overall needs to be made by June in order for no extension of our bond. There is no penalty in requesting an extension….it’s just that some people on the council just don’t like the idea of extending anything out and they want to proceed right NOW.
There was some discussion about the possibility of a future southwest branch library downtown, as suggested by the Orange County Commissioner’s manager. Several council members wanted nothing to do with that and a few had support of keeping that option on the table, and perhaps be discussed briefly at that meeting. Donna Bell in particular spoke in support of such a southwest branch given the proposed branch’s proximity to Northside and Pine Knolls.
I asked Mark if he would provide this update to the public at our business meeting on Monday night.
Another surprise was considering the item of tweaking our boards and commissions. Several council members were initially confused as to the intent of the information presented. The staff presented the council the fact that we have significantly more boards and commissions than other towns and cities, to which Sally said she thought the number was fine because they all allowed for more citizen input. Matt C argued that maybe some of them could be combined maybe at least when listening to the same SUP. The surprise (to me) was that when council members were individually polled about what they thought about our boards and commissions, Jim Ward thought that council members should be required to attend all of those commission/board meetings that they are assigned to (right now the council is not required to attend all of the meetings, but should give an annual update to the council on how the board is doing). The council has well over 36 boards and commissions to which they are assigned….well over because that is not counting various council committees. Gene Pease argued as I might have when he said that such a requirement would be a barrier to those seeking to serve on the council given how much time would be involved in having to be at all of those meetings. I could not agree more with that. We spend enough time as it is without that extra burden and I think that we can adequately serve those boards and commissions by attending some of the meetings and checking in with the chair or meeting with the chairs separately. The council job would most definitely turn into a full time job. My experience is that coming to all of those separate meetings is really not useful to the board since we can’t vote, but occasionally we do need to go to help out on a situation or advise the board on what the council is doing relevant to whatever item they are discussing.
So this is my own personal view of the council retreat, and another council member who might write some post might highlight other things they felt were important. I left the retreat a bit disgruntled, I must admit. It was a nice sunny day, but that was not enough to get me out of my funk on how things are going.