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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Welcome to the Palmer City Council

So it turns out there is more fun to have at public meetings that aren’t always held just in Borough Assembly chambers.  And it’s not just the padding of the seats that feels new and different.   There’s the small humble looking building on the main road into Palmer that serves up a pretty tasty meeting menu  bi weekly. The Palmer City Council
To begin with, the Palmer City Council as a body is at least more gender diversified than the Assembly of the Borough.  The Mayor and three members of the seven member Council are women.  Rather refreshing after months of viewing a vast amount of backslapping and chest puffing by the cowboys in the Assembly corral.  Just gives a more balanced vibe off the bat.  Of course, this is a casual and completely unbiased observation by your Citizen Lobbyist.  
The Palmer City Council went right to work on a busy agenda with adoption of one item on the consent agenda approving some new definitions in city code pertaining to Agricultural Districts clarifying the intent and expanding some permitted uses.  The ordinance seemed reasonable and respectful of Palmer’s long-standing support of the importance of Agriculture to the area by revisiting the existing code to update it to current times.  A bit refreshing after witnessing the mess that one Assembly member has created to roll back the clock on the Borough Assembly subdivision code instead of fixing what was wrong with the current code. Sheesh.  For more background on that nugget see our past post on the Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act.

The usual line up of reports….

Palmer City Manager, Doug Griffin gave a cohesive report on ongoing issues and work being done in the city.  For a small city, Palmer has a lot going on its compact five-mile boundary.  It is the seat of government for the Matanuska Susitna Borough, School District and Alaska Court System with  bustling retail, medical, banking, small business, and restaurant and hospitality amenities.  
Mayor DeLena Johnson gave her report, with added written reports from part time staff, and stated that it will be a regular feature including any complaints received from citizens and how those complaints are handled.  This could be a good tool to let everyone know what is being said, what problems exist and how and what’s being done to resolve them.  In addition, Ms. Mayor (it seem awkward that some council members referred to the Mayor as “Your Honor”) expressed a strong desire to see the MTA Center now being remodeled used more fully.  She announced some possible support from the Mat Su Health Foundation for encouraging more folks to use the facilities walking track. She discussed how Palmer High Students might use the facility for graduation services this spring instead of trekking to Menard.  Go Moose!  There was some discussion on concerns about the sale of The Avalanche Hockey Team and its implications to the city.  Not much more than what your local newspaper the Frontiersman has reported really.

Community Development director Sandra Garley gave her annual Community Development Activity Report.  Contents included a good outline of information on programs, attendance and circulation of the library. (Estimated 316 patrons a day and 120,538 items circulated)  Like all city libraries Palmer struggles with funding from the Borough to offset the service given to non-city residents.  Of the 8,664 patrons using the library only 2,172 are city residents.  Statistically pretty interesting.  Count on hearing more about that in the next few months during Borough library funding time.  It’s good to know in spite of funding struggles the Palmer Library is thriving under the guidance of a shining Library Service Coordinator that is guiding new and well-established programs for users of the library.   Generous grant funding has allowed the library to allow for a new 60” monitor for video conferencing in the meeting room and adds to the valuable assets of the library, one of the corner pieces of downtown Palmer. 

Raise your hand or tip your glass if you have never heard of the Open Meetings Act

The Palmer City Clerk reminded members in her report about the Open Meetings Act or often referred to as the OMA.  The State of Alaska's Open Meetings Act is a law that addresses public meetings and protects the public's right to know and opportunity to be heard. The OMA among other things addresses:  Attendance at public meetings, distribution of meeting material, what may be discussed in executive session and what constitutes public notice.  All addressed in AS44.62.310.   Several members seemed a bit confused by the interpretation of the law or at least seemed surprised it applied to them. A bit of an ego test maybe on who got to show up where and when to speak for the city. The Clerk and City Attorney did their best to advise the Council and in the end at the recommendation of the Mayor and some other Council members it was decided to add this topic to an upcoming agenda and include some discussion on informing the public about the law.  Could be that they too need a refresher course.  Let’s hope they follow through. 
Resolutions for supplying funding for stand-by wages for public works on the weekends, miscellaneous ongoing capital project money authorizations, and ratification of the City Manager to take further action on revision of the expansion of Phase III of the MTA center went through unanimously with some discussion but with civility.  There was consensus on requests from Palmer residents to acknowledge and act on having someone attend the Borough meetings to speak at the designated time on the agenda on city matters. Both bodies meet often at the same time and same night which presents a challenge but not without solutions.  It seems pretty important for the city, the home of the seat of Borough government to be there to have their turn to speak and be heard even if it is straight from the City Manager report. Public testimony was respectful and consisted mainly of comments about the angst of sales tax in collection and enforcement which the Council is addressing at an upcoming Special Meeting March 20th along with some other important topics.  It seems tiresome to hear the argument that because something is tricky to enforce it should be dropped.  Not all drunk drivers are caught but tell the Mothers of Drunk Driving we should drop the law because not every staggering fool isn’t caught and brought to justice. Right? There was public testimony for graduation services to be held in Palmer at the MTA Center and appreciation for a small monetary contribution from the city for a hugely popular event “Who Let the Girls Out!” which will be held April 28th in Palmer.  At least there was comment.  Far too many Assembly meetings contain not an ounce of public comment.  You would think at least some of that 15% that participated in the last Borough wide election would show up to either cheer on their pick or “give em hell”. 
The wheels of small city government often blamed like any government, warts and all, do chug along to do the people’s business.  Not all players are on the same team and there are clearly some power struggles in play that don’t serve the people.  As much as we attest for our city and Borough governing bodies being NON-PARTISAN they aren’t.  They should be, but they aren’t and that comes to play way too often all around.  Again the blame can always be found at the feet of the voter who doesn’t participate and require accountability after they cast their vote.  You have a chance to change that this October with elections across the Borough. 

All in all a well run open to the public meeting.  Who knows, maybe it was best behavior night.  Time will tell and so will citizen lobbyist as we continue on the quest to wake up the sleeping residents of the Borough to what’s happening in large and small corners of our governing bodies. Next City of Palmer Council Meeting March 20th and the agenda is a dandy.  While your in the neighborhood the assembly will meet the same night starting at 4pm with a Jt meeting with the school board then with a modest 500 plus page packet for the regular meeting.  With this kind of fun why do you need TV really?

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