First, my apologies to the citizens of Summit for failing to deliver a paid parking program in the DeForest lots. I take full responsibility for the failed initiative. I trust that at some point in the future, the initiative can be revived to provide citizens and visitors alike with a more fair and pleasant parking experience.
The irony is that City Staff, public officials and most of the stakeholders in the downtown also wanted the program. However, the story, and it is a story, overshadowed the need to address the parking situation in those lots. I write to dispel the notion that I or any other Councilperson, has plotted against providing transparency and clarity to the public with regard to this initiative.
So, I want to let the sun shine in on parking so everyone can see.
Council and specifically the General Services Committee in which I sit, was considering a paid parking program in the DeForest lots for many months since the latter part of the year 2010. Without delving into all of the details, suffice it to say, that while most agreed paid parking in those lots was desirable, there was disagreement on its funding and implementation.
For that reason, throughout 2011, there were countless meetings and discussions, including representatives of the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee, Summit Downtown Inc., and the General Services Committee of Council, as well as some discussions during Council Meetings. Except for the latter, all other discussions and meetings took place without notice to the public and that is perfectly legal. See, the sunshine laws do not prevent members of Council from developing or discussing initiatives, but it aims to provide notice and an opportunity for the public to be heard on all issues involving the public body.
The understanding is that Councilmembers are not secretly deciding on issues the public is not aware of. In the case of the paid parking program at the DeForest lots the public was given notice and an opportunity to be heard according to law. Moreover, the notion that the program surprised some is frankly incredulous when the turnout at the meetings is taken into account and the resulting defeat of the initiative is considered.
No Councilmember plotted against anybody else and nobody hid anything from the public. There were no secret deals and no secret votes. The discussion and vote occurred in front of the public, was lengthy and heated, and ultimately the initiative was defeated.
The accusation of impropriety regarding turning what is termed a “DAR – an item for discussion, action or referral” into an ordinance, has no merit. Simply put, there is nothing wrong or illegal in doing that. The work “action” implies that in some instances, whatever is discussed may result in action not just referral. In fact, Council has done it in other occasions, that is, turned a DAR into an Ordinance for introduction on the spot. The ordinance has the proper statutory time to be heard and the public has a second opportunity, according to law, to be heard. Not that this occurred on the spot by any means.
As I mentioned earlier, these discussions occurred over months with input from many folks outside of Council and the ordinance itself was prepared by City Staff and emailed to all Councilmembers at the same time prior to the meeting in which it was introduced. One thing is undisputed, the Chair of the General Services Committee did not bring the initiative forward. That is easy to explain: he was against it and had said so. That is in itself nothing unusual.
Every Councilperson has a right to decide whatever issue as the person sees fit. What is also not unusual is for another Councilperson in the same committee to usher initiatives forward. In any event, both our City Solicitor and our Mayor have confirmed that the mechanism for introduction of the ordinance was legal.
If someone felt left out, I do sincerely apologize. I understand Mr. Murphy has expressed that feeling. I did not discuss the initiative with Mr.. Murphy in the summer of 2011 because he had made his position clear about not supporting paid parking in the lots during an earlier vote.
At that prior time, it was clear to me that the position would not change even if the initiative could be revised. I take no issue with that position and fully respect Mr. Murphy for letting me know his position. I similarly did not discuss it with the Mayor.
In fairness to both of us, I can’t recall ever discussing an ordinance or resolution with the Mayor. I did discuss the initiative with Mr. Vernotico. He too stated his position, that he would not support parking initiatives until after the election. While I may disagree, I take no issue with his decision and understood his decision.
I do take issue with Mr. Vernotico acting surprised or feeling left out. He sat in meetings with me and others wherein we discussed input into the proposed ordinance from members of DPAC and SDI and in fact that input was taken into account in developing the language that eventually went into the ordinance.
For example, the issue of the length of free parking and the fee structure, among others, were revised several times.
Having said that, I don’t believe that the failure of the ordinance is attributable to individuals, except perhaps me. I do think that a perfect storm of factors contributed to the failed ordinance. First, politics clearly played a role. We are in the midst of a contested election and I will leave it at that. Second, the fact that my job forced me to attend some Council meetings by phone was used as a source of ridicule. My response to that is that if a divorced woman working to put her two kids through college is a source of amusement to some, then so be it. I make no apologies for being a working woman and thank all those in the City Staff and the public that have expressed their support.
If some are concerned about my attendance by phone, feel free to inquire about my preparedness for meetings, my committee work and all the other liaison and Council appointments I participate in. I think anyone that looks at my discipline and effort would agree that attending some meetings by phone has not diminished the work product. Third, I was warned of the concept of not doing real Council work during the summer because some folks are out of town-presumably for an extended period of time in second homes and the like. I admit that I thought that with technology, anybody could provide input even if out of town. More importantly, I admit naiveté at the concept of being “out of town” in summer since most people I know are, and on the evening of the Council meetings in question, most definitely were “in town.” I guess the fierceness in me refused to believe that summer was off limits to get “real” Council work done. On that issue, I was wrong.
I believe that some of the push back against the ordinance had to do with folks perceiving that it was not being done on their terms. If that is correct, I am disappointed. Serving the public should never be about “I” but “us.” In the end, there is no paid parking initiative, more parking tickets, woefully undersized parking stalls, distrust among the public, bruised egos on Council and a sense of defeat. While there may be some validity to the phrase “politics is a blood sport” I refuse to let that dictate how I serve the citizens of Summit.
I believe in the paid parking program and believe it is the best way to utilize a City asset to its fullest potential. I also believe in the concept of a fair and pleasant parking experience. I believe in providing the public with notice and an opportunity to be heard. I also believe, that, as the case here, if the public disagrees, the well-informed and highly educated citizens of Summit will not be shy in saying so.
What I want most now is to move forward. If realities force us to wait until after the election, then that is the way it will be. But I am ready, willing and able to get the work done. I look forward to addressing downtown parking needs and look forward to continue to serve Summit to the best of my ability.