City Council Debates if Changes Are Needed

By CYNTHIA KMETT

The City Council agenda didn’t look complicated last week. You might have thought they’d be done in an hour. You would have been wrong.

Several issues evolved to longer discussions, from returning to a seven-day-a-week library to answering residents’ questions asked in the middle of their talks, to giving those residents five minutes to speak instead of the three they are currently allowed.

Resident Kristi Bowles came to the microphone to suggest that now that tough economic times are behind us, the city should consider reopening the library on Fridays. “I would really like us to have a full-time library again.”

Councilman Ethan Baker said he would be bringing up that very topic in a bit, and he did. He presented a resolution asking that the City Manager, Brian Kischnick, present viable options for the operation of a seven-day library during the coming April budget process.

Baker noted that Troy residents frequently request the library once again be open seven days, and that’s how it’s done in many neighboring communities. He said this could be done without an increase to the city’s library millage by using money from the general fund. He called it a community gathering place and said that we “definitely need more time at the library.”

How much would that cost? Baker had consulted with Library Director Cathy Russ and learned it would be an additional $400,000 to $500,000 a year. So the question became, what other priorities would have to be eliminated. It was noted that the police department wanted to get back to the strength it had before the recession set it.

Councilwoman Edna Abrahim first got involved in politics to save the library from closing. “I have to keep the entire community needs in mind,” she observed.

Mayor Dane Slater thought demanding that administration put something in the annual budget was micromanaging and should be brought up at a budget session. Baker countered that he was only giving staff a heads up to what he thought should be considered this year.

But the resolution demanding options for keeping the library open seven days failed, with only Baker and Councilman David Hamilton voting yes.

Should council decide it wants to open the library on Fridays beginning July 1, 2018, say goodbye to the new Farmers Market scheduled to operate in the library parking lot from June to October on Fridays.

Councilman Hamilton had a resolution of his own that would fail. He wanted to extend the time speakers have at the microphone from the current three minutes to five minutes. He was reminded by the mayor and Councilman Dave Henderson that when the time limit was five minutes they were often there till well after midnight, and many residents repeated the same concerns over and over.

Mayor Slater said now speakers write down their concerns so they will have a good presentation. Baker offered a compromise of four minutes until there were ten or more people on the same item and then it would go back to three minutes This resolution also failed, with only Baker and Hamilton giving it support.

Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek was absent. She, however, did better with the change she wanted in rules and procedures. She wanted the council to review the rules of ethics every year, and review, study and refer to the Michigan Municipal League Ethics Hand Book and ICMA Code of Ethics, ensuring adherence with all actions and decision-making. They all agreed.

Councilwoman Abrahim suggested a new rule that made Councilman Henderson say he would have to resign if it passed. She suggested that members of council be prohibited from talking to developers or investors until after they had received site plan approval for a project from the city’s Planning Commission.

Councilman Ed Pennington was the first to speak up against this idea. He noted that his family business of 50 years in Troy, had dealings with five or six developers on a regular basis. Was he not going to be able to talk to them? In addition, Pennington said he was often asked if he could put someone in touch with the city manager or the mayor. (Some people don’t know that Troy’s government does not have a “strong” mayor and he only is one vote of seven.)

Dave Henderson, however, is a real estate agent, and touting Troy property and helping his clients connect with the right officials is all part of a day’s work. He actually was the one who suggested to MJR Theatres that they might want to look for land in Troy, possibly the old Kmart store site at Maple and Livernois. The MJR opened a very posh theatre on that site in 2014.

Over lunch with former Mayor Jeanne Stine, who hasn’t been on council in over a decade, she noted people still ask her if she knows anyone with land to sell, or if she can introduce them to the mayor.

Councilman Baker said as long as you’re out cheering for our city and encouraging them to come here, it’s fine as long as you don’t give them false hope.

Mayor Slater called the idea “very far-reaching and impractical.” He noted he gets calls every week from people and businesses interested in the city. “I’ve made it very open that I will meet with anyone, businessman, developer or citizen.” He said he wants to present a face of the city that’s positive, and he will introduce you to the city manager or planning director.

As for answering questions from the citizens, council no longer has to take a vote to suspend the rules to respond; they can just ask their fellow council members for a consensus to explain why something is or is not happening. But Mayor Slater said it is not going to evolve into a lengthy discussion.