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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

City Council to end three-reading rule

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

McCOOK, Nebraska -- The McCook City Council briefly entertained immediately implementing a new process which will circumvent the three-reading rule for all items approved by council members, before ultimately deciding to forego the move until its next meeting. The change in procedure was brought up Monday evening, during the council's semi-monthly meeting at Council Chambers.

The three-reading rule requires councilors to schedule items, such as the city budget and sewer and water rate increases, to be approved during three separate meetings. Advocates for the policy contend that it is a practice which allows time for members of the public to assemble and provide feedback on topics of interest.

Mayor Dennis Berry introduced the item and changes to the process of introducing and approving ordinances by proposing councilors "give the nodding head" to a new process of not utilizing the three-reading rule. Berry didn't go into detail and referenced materials provided with item 7 on the council agenda, listed as "Consider process of introducing and approving ordinances."

The final paragraph of a third attachment to the item indicated that councilor's could decide to implement a new process that would circumvent the three-reading rule requirement by approving all items under suspension of the rule. Berry however changed his initial proposal after discussions with City Attorney Nate Schneider.

Schneider said it would be beneficial for future use if something was drafted that detailed what the changes to the process were and why they came about, "why it is, the way we do what we do," said Schneider.

Berry referenced a 2011 conversation about expediting the process before advising city staff to come back at the next meeting with "whatever would be the appropriate manner." Berry said there were "quite a number of cities that do not do the three readings unless it's an annexation."

In an October 2011 conversation with the Gazette Schneider said that under Nebraska Rev. Statute 16-404(2), "It states that ordinances of a general or permanent nature shall be read by title on three different days unless 3/4 of the council members vote to suspend the requirement. The only time the statute doesn't allow you to suspend the requirement is when a city is annexing property."

Details provided in the attachment to the agenda item listed scenarios such as the City Manager's salary and gifting city property to entities such as the McCook Economic Development Corp., as items that added "unnecessary confusion to the process."

The McCook Board of Education removed a similar two reading rule policy, on a split 4-2 decision, in Oct. 2010. Board member Diane Lyons argued at the time against rescinding the policy, saying "We need to allow the public time to hear new policies and if they feel strongly to come to the next meeting. This policy will circumvent the public." Lyons added that there already was an emergency policy in place that allowed for a one-reading approval if circumstances arose.

Other than Councilman Bruce McDowell's comment that he was surprised at "how many different ways other cities did this," no other city councilors commented on the item.

Councilors unanimously approved the 2012 one and six year plan for street improvements, Prior to adopting the plan councilors coordinated a public hearing to discuss it and review how some of the projects would effect the community.

Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff said that improvements on the one year plan to H Street, which extend from Norris Avenue to Airport Road, had drawn a lot of interest from citizens. Potthoff explained that the project would be done in several phases with access to Community Hospital always available. The front entrance to the hospital will be effected during the third phase of the project according to Potthoff, who anticipated the entire project to be completed by November 2012.

The approved one-year plan includes four projects, two of which are the federal aid projects on H Street from Norris Avenue to Airport Road. The other two include a drainage project at G Street and East Ninth Street and a concrete paving project on West 14th Street, between O and Q Streets.

The six-year plan includes six projects, including paving projects on East J Street, P Street, West First Street, Marsh Street, East Seventh Street, Country Club Drive, Seminole Drive, West D Street and West Fifth Street, in addition to a storm sewer repair project between L and M streets.

Potthoff told councilors during the meeting that street improvement projects are evaluated on an annual basis by touring McCook streets to determine which are in the worst condition. The selection process is limited by budgeting constraints but Potthoff said that calls and input from the public are weighed into the final decision pertaining to which projects are placed on the one and six year plan.

Councilors also approved bid specs for the McCook Fire Department to purchase a new 2012 4-wheel drive Special Services Vehicle, estimated to cost $25,000. Fire Chief Marc Harpham explained to councilors that the vehicle would replace the 1998 Chevy Blazer which recently experienced complete engine failure. Harpham said the vehicle initially developed an oil leak which required $500 to repair, followed by the development of front end problems that were deemed too expensive to repair and then shortly afterward the engine failed completely while the vehicle was being used to run a simple errand.

The new purchase SSV will be utilized as a new command vehicle and the Dodge Durango currently filling that role will replace the Blazer. The rotation of vehicles will result in a more efficient system and utilization of the vehicles, according to city staff.

The purchase is not anticipated to have a negative impact on the city budget as $26,151 in funding is available in the ambulance replacement fund.

City Manager Jeff Hancock said city staff would be asking for the council's approval to pursue a grant in conjunction with the McCook Economic Development Corporation that would aid in updating the city comprehensive plan. The request is slated to be ready for the March meeting according to Hancock, who anticipated the grant amount to be in the $60,000 range, with the cost to the city around $15,000.

Hancock said the plan had not been updated since 1999 and the grant funding would help establish a vision for the community and get things moving forward.

Other items on the consent and regular agenda:

* Sampson Construction was approved to close West C Street, from West Fourth to West Fifth, from March 1 to June 1 for the staging of steel and other materials needed for the construction of the new municipal facility.

* Councilors recommended approval to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission of a manager application from Old Sarge's Bar on West First Street for Kirt D. Matson.

* Councilors approved a change order to three projects recently completed that reduced their final combined cost by $12,772. The projects included the relocation of the city office sewer line as needed for the new municipal building being constructed, a bypass project involving the sewer line for the new McCook Community College Events Center and a project involving East C Street water system improvements.

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I do not believe the council or the mayor wants to eliminate the three reading rule. The current format of suspension of the rule when it is needed ---emergency--- seems to be working.

-- Posted by dennis on Tue, Feb 21, 2012, at 1:00 PM
Response by Bruce Baker:
Changing the current practice to a procedure that automatically suspends the three-reading rule on all approved ordinances would effectively circumvent the three-reading rule, as the story states.

There is a difference between an emergency and a convenience or when an item is brought to the attention of the staff or council and nobody accounts for the three readings before coming to the council then expects a suspension of the rule because they are about to miss a deadline. An emergency should be a rare occurrence brought about by unforeseen circumstances. Poor planning is not an emergency because the three reading rule should be taken into account beforehand and brought to the council in time to have 3 readings.

Otherwise, you could just sit on an issue until it's almost too late then bring it to the council in public at the last minute and request a suspension because you'd miss a deadline. You also bypass the full opportunity for public comment by reducing the opportunity for public comment from 3 meetings to 1 but I'm sure nobody would ever do that.

-- Posted by McCook1 on Tue, Feb 21, 2012, at 4:19 PM

Bruce that is correct but again, the change requested was NOT to change the three readings but to combine the introduction and approval of the title as read and to include publication on the final reading. Those changes eliminates a couple of motions, seconds, and votes but accomplishes the same result. The three readings was only mentioned because some other cities do not have three readings. As stated it was NOT the intent to drop the three readings on ordinances unless of an emergency.

-- Posted by dennis on Tue, Feb 21, 2012, at 4:27 PM

It would be nice to know how much extra the Fire Chief will spend on his next chariot.

Are chrome rocker panels needed for the safe performance of the vehicle? How will such frivolous items be paid for? Out of the ambulance fund too?

Hopefully the chief will have to justify that sort of "extras" through the city manager and he will nix it, for what they are, frivolous and not needed. Guess the old phrase often used in government of: "use it or lose it" is alive and well in the Fire Dept.

Present Dodge Durango had chrome rocker panels and other extras added after it was purchased by the city. I am not talking about any "safety equipment", like the flashing lights etc.

It is so much "prettier" than the State Fire Marshall's, "plain jane" vehicle. Perhaps all the extra bling on it helps the chief to do a better job.

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Tue, Feb 21, 2012, at 10:57 PM

I agree george! I'll bet it's loaded with extras judging by that price tag of $25,000.00. I suspect that there will be $5,000.00 worth of chrome and stereo sub-woofers involved........... Afterall, everyone knows that you can pick up a new vehicle for $20,000.00, and SSV is no exception I'm sure.

Actually, come to think of it, I just picked up a 2 year old Chevy sedan for $21,000.00. He's probably budget shopping and will get a 3 year old front wheel drive sedan so he can afford the extras.

I'm sure that will be fine as he forces through heavy snow and icy conditions on the way to a vehicle accident. I'll keep my fingers crossed that that is what he's going to do so my $ .34 of tax money is used wisely. You rub your lucky rabbit's foot george and maybe we'll double our luck!

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Wed, Feb 22, 2012, at 2:03 AM

I would like to make just a couple of comments and response to some of the prior postings on this article. The 3 reading rule does give the public an opportunity to make comment so that changes can be made if the city council agrees before the ordinance gets final approval. I can appreciate this rule. I really think this could be done in 2 readings at times. This would allow for the 1st reading and another reading for input. If no input is received for the second reading, suspend the rule. I've been in other communities that suspend the rules more than they go through all three readings and it seems to work fine. I believe the issue here is that if there is an ordinance that needs to be passed right away, the city council doesn't have to wait two months to do so. That's just my take on the 3 reading discussion that is in the newspaper. I wanted to reply to the purchase of the vehicle for the fire department. I was leaving McCook late one night about two weeks ago. I was met by the fire department durango that had its lights and siren going. My thought was that someone needed help right away and I needed to pull over to allow the vehicle to go by me. Then, about one week later I was out late on a work related issue and on my way back home at about 2 in the morning I met the same vehicle with lights and siren on again. It made me think and realize how lucky we are to have these fine emergency workers who are out day and night while most of us are asleep and don't even know there is something going on. I believe that it is vital that all of our emergency responders have reliable vehicles to get them to the emergencies. I understand from the article that one of the response vehicles no longer even runs. A 1998 vehicle that probably needed replaced anyway. I doubt very much that for $25,000 the fire chief will overdo his vehicle with chrome as mentioned above. I also commend the fire chief and the city for being able to buy a new 4 wheel drive vehicle for only $25,000. I know that if it's me that is in need of any of the emergency services, I hope that my taxes are putting them all in vehicles that are reliable enough to get to me as quickly as possible.

-- Posted by New To McCook on Wed, Feb 22, 2012, at 9:01 PM

Three readings on some items are quite often un-neccessary. That being said, sickness, travel, a lack of reading the newspaper....whatever prevents someone with a vested interest in what the city is proposing to actually be aware of their actions....that's what three reading provide! Time to research, respond, revoke support or renew support of the proposal. Quite often a council member doesn't even hear from the public until after the first reading.....Keep the three readings and suspend only when absolutely necessary!

-- Posted by McCook Muse on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 7:46 PM

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