By Marney Simon | Enterprise Staff
After weeks of discussions, sometimes contentious, one Plainfield trustee finally got an official discussion held over how official discussions are held in front of the full village board.
On March 15, Trustee Edward O’Rourke sent a memo to Mayor Mike Collins, asking for clarification and discussion on how agenda items are created for public meetings. For the past few months, O’Rourke has voiced his displeasure at the process, noting that official agendas are put together by the mayor and Village Administrator Bryan Murphy. O’Rourke said he’d like to see more input from the trustees when it comes to official village business.
On March 27, a Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting centered around O’Rourke’s interest in having a formal process added for trustees to add items to the agenda. O’Rourke said he still was unsure what the actual process is for adding an item to the agenda.
It’s an issue O’Rourke sees as a problem, but other trustees said the current process is working.
“If there is something I am interested in, I can bring it up in Trustee comments, and if there is consensus of the board, and it may be six months later when we look at our ordinances or whatever, it may be on the agenda,” said Trustee Garrett Peck. “But essentially, the mayor, legislatively, sets the agenda, and staff also responds to the majority of the board. So, that’s the procedure I’ve seen in place. There have been times when I’ve requested an agenda item and it comes on the agenda. It might not be immediately the next week, sometimes we have a schedule to adhere to and other things to address first, but I personally have not had a problem. I don’t know if modifying or creating an additional level of bureaucracy is necessarily the answer.”
Peck said he was satisfied with the current state of operations. Other board members agreed.
“Board meetings, as far as I’m concerned, are to handle village business and run it efficiently, and who knows better what needs to be done but staff, in my opinion,” said Trustee Bill Lamb. “Trustees have unique positions. It’s very difficult for you to suggest something for us to comment at the meeting if we don’t agree with you… If you want something a little more formal, I’d suggest send a written note out to all of us asking us whether we support putting this on the agenda.”
Lamb said it’s important for the elected officials to respect he staff without micromanaging them, and let the paid employees of the village do their jobs.
Lamb and other trustees also warned against formalizing a policy to place items on the agenda, which could bog down staff and create unnecessary levels of formal paperwork.
Board members also questioned O’Rourke about whether there had been a problem which prompted his request. O’Rourke said that while there was a specific incident that piqued his interest, it was the long-term effect of board members not being able to simply add items to the agenda that led him to investigate the issue more thoroughly.
“It really just got me thinking about, what is the process,” O’Rourke said. “I couldn’t find anything that was documented about what it was. When I asked the board, everybody just kind of said, the mayor and the administrator. And when I think about that, I think, okay, so I’m elected from the residents to have influence on policy or direction of the village and the board. And if I’m not able to add items or contribute to adding items – and again it’s not just me, I’m just wanting to have discussion tonight about what makes sense. I’m not saying these ideas are all the best ideas. I’m just saying, having ideas presented, open for discussion, it’s more about presenting stuff for the COW like we’re doing tonight. Everybody talks about, the village is doing a great job. That’s really not the subject tonight, it’s really about how do we get stuff on the agenda to have those discussions, to move projects forward.”
O’Rourke also listed examples from surrounding communities where policies are in place for board members to place items on the agenda. The trustee said if the mayor and/or village administrator feel his or another trustee’s thoughts on an agenda item aren’t relevant, then that item won’t see the light of day.
However, the mayor and other trustees said that the general consensus has not been in favor of O’Rourke’s proposal that there be a formal process for placing an item on the agenda. Board members recommended that for future items, O’Rourke send an e-mail to board members, and allow staff to filter through response to see if there is support for that item.