This week, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and the newly elected City Council – comprised mostly of the mayor’s supporters – took swift action at their first meeting of the year. They voted to change the rules so the city could remove a stop sign at 126th Street and Auman Drive — the target of much ire from some residents.
Less than 12 hours later, the stop sign was removed.
Some see the move as symbolic because the supportive relationship between the mayor and the newly elected council is likely to mean less roadblocks for the mayor and his supporters.
During the previous four years, Brainard often butted heads with four of the seven members of the city council, which led to some defeated bills and slow moving legislation that sat in committee for months. Three of those councilors are no longer in office, having lost elections and the fourth — Carol Schleif of the Southwest district — is often in agreement with the mayor.
Rick Sharp, who just left office as city council president after losing his election for mayor, said he believes the new council will discourage public input on issues. He pointed out that several public hearings were held on Jan. 4 and that the public hearings were closed instead of kept open. As a result, no member of the public can come and speak about these proposed bonds during the blue card section of the next city council meeting. The bonds total $242 million with various feeds included.
Sharp also said he believes the debt was broken up into several bonds, each less than $2 million, because any bond more than $2 million is subject to a possible petition from the public which would force a public referendum on the debt. Any bond larger than $12 million is automatically subject to a referendum, he said. That means the public would vote on whether they wanted to take out these bonds for these projects.
The council changed the rules so ordinances can now be voted on after first reading with only a 2/3 vote of the council. Previously it had to be unanimous.
Council President Ron Carter said he describes the new system as “efficient,” not “fast.” He said the previous council often wasted time arguing when there were ways to find a compromise and work together.
Councilor Sue Finkam told Current that she believes there’s an effort for more transparency, but that unfortunately people don’t always take advantage of it. She said many people don’t attend committee meetings — which are open to the public — so she would prefer that more business is done at council meetings instead of at committee, which aren’t recorded and posted online. She also noted that ordinances/agendas will be posted much earlier, giving the public the chance to look it over and schedule time to come and speak about the issue. She also noted that constituents can email, call, tweet or Facebook herself and others.
Proposed ordinances will also be released to the public with a quick summary to avoid people not understanding the legalese involved in writing laws. Some expressed concerns that these summaries could be subjectively written to sway passage, but councilors said that won’t be the case.
A proposal to limit the amount of time for comments from the public died at a December vote but the new council plans to vote on that in 2016.
The mayor now controls the storm water utility through the Board of Public Works instead of the council. The mayor now controls arts funding. The city engineer — who reports to the mayor — now controls stop signs in Carmel. The Carmel Redevelopment Commission now doesn’t have to go to the City Council for approval for many contracts, when previously they had to for anything more than $25,000.