The Crystal City Council meeting on June 17 was a long one. It didn’t adjourn until around 10:00 PM, meaning it lasted for about 3 hours.
The main point of contention was the topic of street maintenance, which I will get to later. First, some of the easier stuff.
The council approved a full liquor license for Milton’s, which is a great neighborhood restaurant located in Ward 2. (Until tonight Milton’s could only serve wine and beer.) The council also approved a conditional use permit to allow Milton’s to stay open until midnight on weekdays, which I voted in favor of on the Planning Commission. I spoke briefly in favor of the liquor license application at the meeting tonight. Milton’s is a great success story, and the type of business (and responsible business owners) that we should be trying to attract to Crystal.
The council approved the new sign for St. Raphael’s and the extended hours for MD Liquors that I voted for on the Planning Commission last week. They also approved the package of variances for the new public works building that I voted against, and then voted to approve demolition of the structures on the construction site, and to approve advertising for construction bids for the new facility, so that project is moving along on an accelerated pace.
One kind of interesting vote during the meeting was to dissolve a joint powers agreement that was related to a bus transportation program that had been in existence for many years but was facing declining participation. The vendor eventually went out of business, so the program just kind of died and was officially killed off tonight. So I guess there is at least one example out there of a government program actually shutting down!
But a few minutes earlier we saw an example of government at it’s worst when a sewer repair project came in significantly under budget (almost $75,000), and the first impulse of the staff was to find a new way to spend the savings instead of using them to offset another area or banking for an emergency.
Now for the major topic of the discussion- road maintenance. While I was glad to see the council actually debating an issue in public, I could not be more disappointed in how this vote actually turned out.
As I mentioned after the last meeting, there have been some conversations on the council about financing road maintenance through the tax levy instead of through special assessments. I said at the time that I do see merits to both approaches, and that I would like to see the topic discussed further. Mayor Jim Adams has been making the point that since we are at the beginning of a new phase of maintenance we should be having thorough discussions about whether the approach we are using is the right one.
There has been a great deal of resistance to even discuss the matter, for reasons that I’m afraid are quite political. The three members of the council who are most resistant to even have a discussion on the topic also happen to be the three long-term incumbents who are up for re-election this fall. Unfortunately it seems that these members of the council, including incumbent Joe Selton, are not interested in allowing a new mayor to have any type of perceived political win, even if that would be in the best interest of the residents. We all know that politicians get a bad rap for putting their own interests before those of their constituents, unfortunately even local non-partisan offices are not immune to this type of behavior.
The item that was up for discussion tonight was whether to move forward with the first phase of a 20 year road maintenance project, or to delay action until the matter could be discussed. In an extremely disappointing move, 5 members of the council voted to go forward with the project, despite the fact that the funding mechanism has not yet been decided. This is like walking into a car dealership to buy a car without giving any thought to how you’ll pay for it!
I thank Mayor Adams and Councilman Casey Peak for their vote to delay action until the matter could be discussed and resolved properly, and I wish more of their colleagues would have joined them. Ultimately I believe that two members of the council were swayed by (in my view inappropriate) scare tactics used by city staff in trying to convince them that even a short delay would mean “exponential” cost increases, so the measure passed 5-2.