Some old and new issues surfaced at Thursday’s Unified Government Commission meeting.
Meeting in City Hall at 5 p.m., only about a couple hours after a fatal shooting near the back door of City Hall, commissioners were questioned by the mayor about their emails sent to each other working on their own positive news release about the commission, and also were told that Administrator Dennis Hays had canceled the Fire Department cadet academy this year because of lack of funding.
The commissioners have been working on their own news release, which lists important issues in a positive way, according to commissioners. Mayor Mark Holland questioned the commissioners about the emails and said he was not included and did not receive anything about this news release.
Commissioner Ann Murguia said she believed the emails exchanged by the commission did not violate the open meetings law because they were not about a topic that would require binding action in a meeting. She said originally she was just going to do a news release for the 3rd District, but after conversations with other commissioners, then thought it might be a good idea for the entire commission.
Commissioner Jane Philbrook said she did not participate in this email writing and rewriting of the release on the advice of her attorney.
The mayor asked Murguia to bring the news release to a commission meeting for a consensus on it, saying any document with six commissioner names on it needs to go through a public meeting; however, Commissioner Angela Markley said it was ridiculous to bring up a news release at a meeting.
Murguia said Thursday the commissioners, if they send it out, may just decide to send it out individually instead of as a group.
Two of many items that might have been in the commission’s news release, which hadn’t been released yet as of Thursday, were the commission’s request to review the charter ordinance and the ethics ordinance, according to Murguia. These two items were requested by the commissioners to be on the agenda more than six months ago, but were not placed on the agenda by the mayor, according to Murguia.
Murguia said the news release took a positive tone and had a simple outline of issues that the commission supported, without going into details about them. It was written mostly by Commissioners Hal Walker, a former UG attorney, and Jim Walters, she said.
The charter ordinance review is an issue in the open 1st District at-large selection process. The charter allows appointments by a 6-vote majority only, and does not allow a special election to fill the seat, according to local officials. The commission was unable to reach 6 votes for any single candidate in an appointment process last year, and the seat remained open. The ethics ordinance review was requested by Commissioner Tarence Maddox.
Murguia said these items in the release were all discussed previously at open meetings.
She said she did not see this discussion about the news release as an open meetings issue, but rather as about “power and control” on the part of the mayor.
Mayor Holland said at the meeting that his opinion was that because they were hiring a new county administrator, it was not a good time to look at the charter ordinance. He said it might hurt candidates for administrator if they thought their job description would change.
He also said at the meeting that he needs to know there is a consensus of the UG Commission before putting an item on the agenda, so that a lot of staff’s time is not spent on something that there isn’t a consensus on. Some commissioners are interested in having a sort of commissioner liaison employee to work with them on their proposals.
After a presentation about the new UG radio communications system and its cost, Hays told the commission that he had canceled the fire training academy this week.
Some commissioners were upset that they were not notified in advance that the UG administrator was postponing the fire academy.
Hays said he wrote a letter to 16 candidates for the fire academy, stating it would be canceled and he would provide them with an update in 60 days.
According to Hays, the Fire Department had expected some funds to be freed up when people retired, but it did not have those expected retirements.
When he was asked about sending out information to commissioners before the letters to the commission, Hays said it was a personnel matter, a budgetary matter and that the county administrator has the authority to make those decisions.
Commissioner Hal Walker said the commissioners were getting phone calls about it without knowing about it.
Hays said he should have alerted the commission in advance.
Murguia said after the meeting she believes this was a budget decision that the commission should have made.
Currently the commission is working earlier than before on its budget, trying to work out issues in advance of the last minute.