Council conducts too much business behind closed doors
Why did the Decatur City Council recently make a decision that affected $2.5 million in city finances with essentially no discussion?
The short answer is because it can.
Ignoring both Mayor Don Kyle’s request for a detailed review and the transparency that’s supposed to accompany elected government, the council voted 3-2 to let Council President Billy Jackson sign an agreement to build a nonprofit agency a $650,000 building.
To save a $60,000 annual lease payment, the planning and engineering departments would move out of the city annex. The city would renovate its current animal shelter in the public works compound for planning and engineering. The city would spend nearly $1 million to renovate a city building in Wilson Morgan Park at Central Parkway and Beltline Road Southwest for an animal shelter. The Centers for the Developmentally Disabled, which leases the building now, would move to another site on Central Parkway, where the city would spend $650,000 to build the agency a facility.
Aside from eliminating a $60,000 lease, the city needs a new shelter, and studies suggest a high visibility location like the Beltline would increase adoptions, according to Councilman Ronny Russell, shelter liaison who proposed the moves.
Kyle asked the council to wait so it could consider cheaper alternatives and other priorities for city revenues such as new streets, sewer service and recreation services. Other sites for the shelter would be cheaper and wouldn’t tie up 1.3 acres of prime commercial land valued at $900,000, he said. Fewer than 200 dogs and cats that have to be euthanized annually would otherwise be adoptable. The nonprofit agency is already funded through the state, and no other local charity/service organizations gets a $600,000 appropriation from the city.
Kyle raises worthwhile questions on which reasonable people may differ. So why wouldn’t the council want to listen and then debate the issues in an open forum? Because scheduling council work sessions around jobs and families is inconvenient. Because open, public discussion is always more time-consuming and indelicate than private discussions out of the public spotlight. Because Kyle and the council are at odds over how they do their jobs. Because at least three members of the council let it happen and can steamroll the other two.
This is just the latest council decision orchestrated out of public view. Until the public demands better, it won’t be the last.