Wherever you go, there you are, say the Buddhists among us. City Council members seemed to be applying that rule on July 20, when they debated their policy for postponing public hearings. At issue was how to avoid inconveniencing people, when one or more disputing parties ask, at the last minute, for a continuance.
Council member Chuck Cloninger looked at the handout of suggested guidelines, provided by City Attorney Bob Oast, and saw red: “I wonder if we’re just adding a lot more red tape,” he remarked. One of Oast’s suggestions was that requests for postponements be made by 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the scheduled hearing (one recent request was made on the same day of the hearing), and that those asking for the postponement attempt to notify all parties involved. Cloninger remarked that, even when a postponement request is made known ahead of time, people will still come to the Council session. He added that, even if a request meets all the guidelines, Council may opt to turn it down. “I don’t know that we can avoid [inconveniencing people].”
Most Council members agreed, but nevertheless, they spent nearly 30 minutes tossing around ideas for making the policy more fair or easier to administer — such as giving city staff the authority to accept or deny postponement requests, requiring that requests be made a week before the hearing, and debating and deciding postponement requests early in the City Council meeting at which the issue is scheduled to be heard.
Oast cautioned, “You all control the agenda, and I would recommend that you not surrender that control.” Delegating authority to staff would streamline the process, but take away some of Council’s flexibility on postponements. On the other hand, he observed, dealing with postponement requests at the start of the meeting would save people from having to wait until after other agenda items have been addressed. Oast also mentioned that the guidelines he had listed in the handout were “pretty much what y’all do now.”
And City Manager Jim Westbrook remarked that it’s common in other cities to honor an initial postponement request, but to discourage subsequent ones (this is Council’s current policy).
So there they were: Keep things the way they are, as far as postponements are concerned, but address postponements first thing each session — immediately after proclamations and before the consent agenda. “Sometimes consent-agenda items can go on for hours,” Cloninger noted.
Downtown roundtable coming
Now that downtown’s all grow nup and doing well — what’s next? For starters, Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick has suggested holding a roundtable this fall on downtown issues.
City staff and key downtown organizations also have stressed the need to look at how best to manage the success of downtown and develop a vision for its future.
The roundtable — which will most likely be held in October — will ask participants such key questions as: What kind of a community are we building? What do you love about downtown? What are your concerns about downtown?
To date, local organizations involved in the discussion are the Downtown Commission, the Merchant Action Coalition, the Downtown Association, the Homeless Coalition, the Eagle/Market Street Redevelopment Corporation, and Quality Forward.
City staff indicated they will report back to Council on possible dates for the roundtable.