McRady objects to early sessions for talk

Friday, December 16, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Write

Lewisburg Councilman Ronald McRady opposes a proposal to have non-voting workshops on a regular basis before city council meetings and, in his own style of straight talk, he said why when the subject was raised Tuesday night during the panel's regular monthly meeting.

"I'm against this," McRady said of a suggestion raised by Mayor Barbara Woods and Councilman Steve Thomas who'd explained that an afternoon session might be good so a full discussion could be held on the various decisions facing the council. Without an apparent vote pending on something, councilmen could consider different points of view during an hour or so while they have supper.

"Go to the charter about regular meetings," McRady continued.

The charter sets regular monthly meetings and permits workshops as needed. But the idea of institutionalizing a discussion session - some have called it a pre-meeting - so ideas could be exchanged was repugnant to the councilman who listed a couple of other reasons.

When he first came to the board, he said he was taken aside and asked to come in and discuss his views about up-coming business.

"'If you've got any problems with this...' I was told, 'let us know and when we meet, we'll all agree,'" McRady said.

"I don't want to get into a mode of deciding and then having a rubber stamp," he said. "To me, this is just a railroad job."

McRady didn't mention the intent of the open meetings law. It requires public panels to deliberate issues during open meetings so the public may hear their elected officials state reasons for their decisions. It was clear from the beginning that the proposed workshop sessions would be open to the public.

McRady's other objection was the time of day.

"If we meet at 2-3 p.m., the people can't attend," McRady said, advocating meeting times after regular working hours. "We've got this place all night," he said of City Hall.

The mayor later noted that many Lewisburg residents work in factories with night shifts, so those people aren't able to attend now.

Re-emphasizing her advocacy for discussion without the pressure of a vote, Woods raised "personal integrity" as a factor. None of the councilmen, or city officials would try to slip something by, nor would she agree to an afternoon meeting when a decision is made, she said.

McRady also objected to having a consent agenda. It's not uncommon at other city halls, including Murfreesboro and Franklin. There, various routine decisions are made by leaders agreeing they are not controversial and must be resolved as recommended by city staff. One vote approves items on a consent agenda and it's not uncommon to have a procedure to permit removal of a consent agenda item so that it can't be approved with other items' approval issued with one vote.

McRady's straight talk has become familiar during city meetings and some of his words - always civil - drew reactions.

"I personally resent that you would use the word collusion," said Thomas, the councilman who organized a council retreat at Henry Horton State Park where an all-day workshop was held to consider a great number of city issues during long conversations with department leaders.

McRady announced he'd boycott pre-meetings and Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. remarked that might cause delay because of explanations to inform one councilman.

Whitehead sought to postpone a decision on pre-meetings. McRady moved to table the discussion, but without a second, the issue was left as a topic that could be raised again without a vote.

Discussion then moved to half a dozen city buildings sprayed for bugs. The circumstances of the exterminator's employment were not discussed. Nearly $1,800 is spent annually for an exterminator.

Councilman Robin Minor said he's received calls from constituents who would like to have an opportunity to get that contract.

Woods turned to City Recorder Brenda Brewer who cited a legal procedure allowing administrators to spend up to $2,500 on individual purchases without authorization from the city council.

The dollar amount is set by the legislative body. Some cities have raised the amount to $5,000, given inflation.

Some limit must be set, "from an accounting standpoint," McRady said.

The city's insurance contract was another concern. The dollar amount spent on insurance was not stated during the discussion. In Tennessee, professional services may be obtained without bids, but those are typically limited to architectural, engineering, legal and other services for which a post-graduate degree is needed.

While the issue of professional services was not part of the discussion, a few other points were made and the entire discussion was deferred until the next regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of January, or a non-voting workshop that hasn't been scheduled. Some comments indicated a workshop might be called.