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.