Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Update on 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax Issue

I'm a believer in full disclosure (as I learn, so will you).

Yesterday, Mike Brothers, of the City, sent me an email after reading my entry on the 1/8-cent transportation tax (you can read that entry directly below this one).

I chose not to update it until I had a few more facts, but, what Mr. Brothers wanted me to know is that when a 1/8-cent transportation sales tax project is proposed as a cost share it does come before the City Council. I had questions about how it came before Council. I asked where it was placed on the agenda, whether it was listed as a one reading, first reading or consent agenda item, and I asked Brothers if he would mind providing me with an example.

The reason I asked, and the reason I felt it was important to know how it came up, is because there isn't as much understanding about how the public can address a "consent agenda" bill as there are first reading bills or even resolutions or emergency bills.

A consent agenda bill must be requested removed from the consent agenda by either a member of the public or the Council and, in my opinion, they often fly under the radar screen and are treated as just simple, "taking care of business" matters which don't warrant much attention or questioning. That's why I was interested.

Brothers provided me with an example and I'll get to that in a minute.

In his original email to me, Mike wrote:

"...anything involving the 1/8 cent goes to Council. Any kind of cost share with MoDOT or private developers or anyone else would go to Council for approval. Smaller projects on down to sidewalks would still have to be bid out to developers and that would require Council approval, too. So there are no staff decisions (if that's what you meant by administrative) as to how to allocate the money."

Facts are facts and as such, yes, it is important to note them, but my further questions as to how they are presented on the Council agenda also has bearing, in my mind, and it should be noted that Council members do not generally write the bills that come before them in Council chambers, and as a new Councilman by the name of Doug Burlison found out at, I believe, his second Council meeting, even the Council members who are listed as sponsors of any particular agenda item have not necessarily played a part in the creation of that bill or even necessarily support it. A Council member's name MUST be listed as sponsoring a bill on the agenda and so Council members' names are often listed as sponsors without their knowledge of a bill. After Burlison found that out, he specifically requested he not be listed as a sponsor of a bill without his approval (a little digression I thought readers might be interested in).

Also, though Council may review and approve the bills related to the transportation tax as they come up, Council, as the representatives of the voters, will generally support what the voters have approved, as they should. So, if and when the voters approve administrative (or staff) recommendations "to advance other high-priority transportation improvements related to economic development and quality of life enhancements," the Council will, likely, feel bound to honor whatever the administration (or staff) recommends will advance those goals. The Council will consider the people to have spoken and that will be that.

How many times have we heard in recent months that because the voters approved projects for the 1/4-cent park sales tax or had approved a CIP project that they feel they must follow through on what the voters wanted. Therefore, when (and if) the voters approve the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax, the Council will determine that voters understood what they were voting for and will honor the voters wishes.

How this translates, in my view, is that this vote on this tax is crucial. Voters will determine whether they approve of projects, both listed and unlisted, that the City deems will serve "to advance other high-priority transportation improvements related to economic development and quality of life enhancements," and Council will feel bound to follow through on the wishes of the voters.

In my previous CFP Council Notes column, re-posted in the entry below, I pointed out that:

"This year’s ballot language does not specify parking, but includes “other shared funding projects with county, state, federal, and developers to advance high-priority transportation projects,” which are identified in the bill as, “related to economic development and quality of life enhancements.”

If you have not read beyond the ballot language, you should: ORD25392.

Now, as for the example Mike Brothers sent me. As suspected, it was a resolution on the consent agenda. It was listed as a one reading bill, meaning, unless removed from the consent agenda by a member of the public or the Council, it would not be read individually at all and would be voted on at that meeting as a part of the consent agenda.

The Mayor (Gannaway at the time), likely, as you will know if you have attended many City Council meetings, would have offered members of the public and the Council the opportunity to remove it (in the form of "any consent agenda items") from the consent agenda, otherwise, it would have sailed through as a bulk consent agenda item and been voted on, not individually, but as a part of the consent agenda as a whole. Which, it appears, is exactly what happened in the case of the example Brothers sent me. He sent a link to Bill 99-049, Ordinance No. 8620. You may read it yourself, RES8620 .

From the minutes of that meeting, we find:

"The following bills appeared on the agenda under Consent Agenda – One Reading Bills.

Glenstone & Battlefield

Sponsor: Rhodes. Council Bill 99-49. A resolution approving the plans, specifications and the bid of Hartman and Company for adding dual left turn lanes to the Glenstone and Battlefield intersection.

Council Bill 99-49. Resolution No. 8620, was adopted by the following vote: Ayes: Griggs, Vanaman, Wright, Gibson, Carlson, Hacker, Chancellor, Rhodes, Gannaway. Nays: None. Absent: None."

Had it been a first reading bill on the consent agenda it would have appeared on the agenda twice, at the next meeting as a "second reading" consent agenda bill. Since it was a one reading bill it would have appeared on the agenda at the February 1, 1999 meeting and been voted on that night, along with every other item on the consent agenda, as a whole, and never appear again.

So, technically, the Council has an opportunity to vote and approve these projects as they come up, then later to approve the bids, and the public can hold them accountable for their choices and it is all worth noting.

Certainly, the voters can hold the Council accountable if they feel the use of the tax isn't in keeping with what the voters had in mind, but, in my opinion, when voters approve such broad, open-ended language, it is all very subjective as to whether this is a use the voters would have approved without being specifically singled out for separate vote. This measure, as written, approves those broad, open-ended uses before they come up, voters have given their option of approving individual uses away at the outset by voting to support the measure and passing it. It's my opinion, they have, at that point, given away the option of holding the Council accountable because they've already authorized City uses that the City deems will, "advance other high-priority transportation improvements related to economic development and quality of life enhancements."

In the case Brothers provided, it was listed on the one reading consent agenda, not removed from it and then approved as a part of the consent agenda as a whole. There was no discussion in this case. The example Brothers provided happened to have been an item listed in the ballot language for uses of the tax. Short of studying every set of meeting minutes it would be difficult and very time consuming to try to track down particular cases and, as a result, I have gone with using the example he provided.

Further note: I don't intentionally omit information. In this blog format I relay information as it becomes available to me and if something later becomes available to me that has bearing on something I have previously written, I do make an effort to update it with the further information.

While blogging is a different format than writing a column in the newspaper there isn't much difference in some regards. Reporters write about facts as they become available to them. I have added these facts as they became available and supplied some opinion to go along with it. As always, the reader will have to determine what they will choose to do with the information available to them at the time they make a decision about whether they support this tax or not. My primary concern has been that voters have as clear an understanding about what they are voting to support, if they vote in support of this tax, as possible. I hope some of the information I've provided has been helpful.


Whether you vote for or against the transportation sales tax, you owe it to yourself and the other members of your community to cast your vote. Do it.


tom said...

My fear from experience tells me that most UNINFORMED voters will precede to the polls and cast a ballot for the individual that their church friends, political party friends, radio talk show host or (fill in the blank)have told them would be a good person to place in office.

Today while listening to the radio the news segment ran a piece on questioning likely voters who they thought Obama should pick as a VP candidate. Most of them questioned couldn't even come up with a person's name for the #2 slot let alone come up with a good reason to vote for Obama & the candidate to be named later.
To be fair the reason to vote for McCain ranged from he isn't Obama to we must stay in Iraq until the job of winning the war on terror is over. Sorry folks the war on terror won't be over for many years to come

Stu Solomon said...

The war in Iraq isn't the War on Terror, anyway. What a crock! I'd have a lot more respect for McCain if he wasn't so desparate to get some religious right wacko support.

On a different note, did you happen to see the KY3 editorial board forum with Steelman? She was only endorsed by one group, formally when she ran for Treasurer...The Pro-Life something or other. She won of course, as we all know, but I have a question or two.

What the heck does the job of Treasurer have to do with the abortion question? I that really a reason to vote for a Treasurer?

Secondly, does that tell you something about the mind-set of the voters of Missouri? I mean...Steelman was supported by some large-scale pro-life organization and she wins the office of Treasurer?

I'm thinking don't count Steelman out of this primary, even though most folks are saying it's gonna be Hulshof. We'll see.

Sorry for getting off topic Jackie.

Jackie Melton said...

Stu, I'm not a one issue voter but there are a lot of people who are.

People who oppose abortion often base their vote in a very large part on whether a candidate is pro-life or not.

I also know people who so strongly support the FairTax that they will not vote for someone who doesn't support it, or at least offer some sort of hope that they might, at some future date.

On the question of whether abortion is a relevant issue to consider when electing a State Treasurer? Apparently, if the elected State Treasurer uses it as a political springboard for another office, such as GOVERNOR, then yeah, I can see why it is considered relevant.

Politicians don't usually start at the top, so what their positions are on peoples' areas of interest are important even when they are starting out on the bottom rung.

There are a lot of things I like about Steelman, her pro-life stance is one of them, but it isn't the only thing I consider. I will say that I tend to look more closely at other stances of a candidate on other issues once that question is settled in my mind.

You'd probably consider me a "religious right wacko," based on two or three criteria that fits your mold of what makes up such a person.

I tend to think even the person I might think is the "lowest on the totem pole" might have something of value to teach me. Even a "far left lunatic." ;)