Sunday, October 17, 2010

P&R fees: symbolic votes should not be represented as votes with actual authority

In a recent post on the Council voting to raise Parks & Rec fees I wrote:

My concern was not only increasing fees in this economy, it was also the process.

The process concerns me because I don't want residents to believe that a Council vote has real legislative authority, unless that is true. And based on previous TM explanations I've been given, I understand that the Council has no actual authority over P&R fees.

So why did we vote?

I'm not entirely sure. But the TM wasn't there and my process concern was relatively minor in the bigger picture. Nonetheless...

Going forward, I hope that when the Council votes on P&R and pool fees it is made clear to the voters that the vote is symbolic only. And I also hope the TM -- the paid, full-time staff -- stops failing to disclose relevant facts when the Council votes. But then, the TM has always had a preference for omitting -- rather than disclosing -- relevant information.

I think it's important that the voters be given an accurate understanding of Council actions. And I've felt this way for years. For example, in June 2007 the TM had the authority to work with the Friends of Boulder Knoll, yet he refused to act. But the former Council majority refused to publicly chastise the TM. So they kowtowed to his wishes and knowingly misled the voters by voting to authorize and direct the TM to act.

I'm leaving the Council now. But I hope that when issues regarding the authority of the Council vs. the authority of the TM arise, the Council makes clear to the voters if the vote has legal standing or is simply symbolic. Symbolic votes have value, but the voters should know if a vote is symbolic or legal.

For more on the Council vote on P&R fees, you can see the Herald article here and the MRJ article here.

And here are my comments regarding the relevance of a Council vote on P&R fees:

Tim White


Anonymous said...


We voted on this because the town manager has been criticized by some in the past for unilatterally changing pool fees...not since I've been on the TC. We also discussed the increase during the budget process and actually budgeted the fee increases into the P&R revenue. You may also recall we have voted on library fees and a host of other fees. Finally, this council, while not wanting to micro-manage has eandeavored to make things as transparent as possible, a goal you have long lauded as being a high priority. On the flip side a no vote would have eliminated the increase and I rather doubt Michael Milone would have authorized the increase whether he could or not.

Tim Slocum

Tim White said...

Thanks Tim S. My point is simply that the public should know the difference between a symbolic vote and a vote with real authority. I felt that it was made clear during the vote that the TM has the authority to raise fees, therefore the vote was symbolic. So that seems good to me.

The bigger issue is really requiring the TM to advise Councils on the legal authority of any vote.

From my perspective, I see the TM effectively telling prior Councils that they must vote on a fee increase... something that probably won't go over well with voters... similar to a tax increase.

But when it's cutting fees, he takes all the credit... letting users know that he decided to cut fees... in turn, positive feelings accrue to the TM-for-life (remember... we need "continuity" in government!)... and negative feelings accrue toward elected officials.

Regardless, I've brought forward symbolic motions to the Council in the past. I'm fine with them. But I also think that whenever that happens, the voters should be made aware. And at last Tuesday's meeting they were aware. But for several years, I suspect no voters knew that P&R fee votes were non-binding on the TM.

I recall a WRA editorial that ripped a prior Council for raising fees... so the votes are noticed. And I think it'd be simple enough for the TM to advise future Councils on the weight of any given vote. That's all.

Again, I was comfortable with Bob C's explanation that it was a "courtesy."