In less than 12 months, 13 committees, boards and liason positions have been disolved, terminated or termed out in an effort to “streamline” Claremore’s city government and clean-up city codes and ordinances.
There are 16 such groups and positions still on the books. “Many of them will just term out,” City Manager Troy Powell said, referring to committees such as the Traffic Study Committee and the Electric Reliability Committee. Others are permanent boards, such as the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustments.
Powell said the move that has resulted in striking formal recognition of many of these groups is definitely not because he does not want citizen input.
“I don’t want the perception that I don’t like boards,” Powell said. When he and his staff looked at the long list of committees, boards and position on record with the city, they found many were either not functioning, were duplicating activities or were not in line with current city needs.
Powell said he is looking at new ways to provide citizen input and encouraged anyone with concerns to call him at City Hall.
Monday night’s Council action — dissolving two codified citizenry-based boards — sheds new light on the upside and downside of Powell’s public push to make city government more efficient and accountable.
On the upside, no one protested when Mayor Brant Shallenburger introduced an ordinance to dissolve the longstanding, yet non functioningTree Board from the Municipal Code Book.
For good reason, Assistant City Manager Matt Mueller said. “There’s been no one appointed to the Board since (19)93,” he said.
The Tree Board’s purpose was general management of trees and shrubs within city limits. City Hall for all intents and purposes replaced over time the need for a citizen-based board with city-paid employees in parks and recreation, now the Community Image Department.
On the downside, the unanimous move by Council that declared an emergency to dissolve the functioning Board of Parks Commission drew both on the record and off the record protests not only from board members, but also the general public.
Former Parks Board commissioner Mack Greever said Monday’s Council action will make city government even “less accessible” than it is already and asked the Council to “keep our Park Board.” Greever also opposed Council action earlier this year to eliminate free access to the city-funded Recreation Center.
“The Park Board provides an unique opportunity for input from citizens and provides a service to the Council and government,” Greever said in his call-to-the-public remarks.
Bill Flanagan, chair of the now defunct Parks Board, expanded on Greever’s statments in a later phone conversation saying eliminating the Parks Board is not about cost efficiency “because we all worked for free.”
“There will be no cost savings to the city,” he said. Instead the city will be losing valuable no-cost, volunteer input. On the former Park Board, “You got a city planner, a government expert, an insurance expert and a CPA, all of these eyes for free,” Flanagan said.
In the end, the Council decision appeared to be based on a difference in philosophy, not cost savings.
Mayor Shallenburger supported the move to dissolve the Parks Board saying, “I feel this board doesn’t meet expectations and philosophy of this Council and this form of government.”
Councilor Terry Chase, who along with Mayor Shallenburger met with members of the Parks Board in advance of Monday’s decision, admitted “there are some philosophical disagreements and agreements on some things.”
“But at the end of the day ... it does go back to streamlining,” Chase said. He referenced the reduction in city departments from 28 to 22 since the arrival of City Manager Powell.
“I do believe it is the right thing to do,” Chase said. He voiced appreciation to members of the Park Board, some who have served upwards of 15 years and said, “We certainly do want the input from these user groups and citizens.”
“What this does (eliminating the Parks Board) is it truly gets to the roots of what a city manager form of government does,” he said.
Former board chair Bill Flanagan doesn’t entirely disagree. He said when the Parks Board first came into existence — when the 0.20 percent sales tax was voted in by the people to fund parks development within the city _ “we were operating under State Statutes” which required an oversight board. Being a charter city and under a city manager form of government “changes things,” he said.
“Looking back on it, we should have updated the ordinances in relation to the Charter,” he said.
However, Flanagan said elimination of the Parks Board was not necessary and in the end may not be in the best interest of the citizens.
“The ordinance could have been updated. We could have worked out a few of these wrinkles,” he said.
Still, Flanagan said, “I am hoping for the best.”
In the past, so-called “user groups” (made up of about 500 volunteers) came before the Parks Board on an annual basis to request upgrades, point out facility needs or to work out scheduling or use conflicts.
“Right now, the line of execution is very up in the air, (i.e. when you have a problem or concern) do you call Joe Kays (parks director), the city manager or your councilman,” Flanagan said.
These user groups (sport leagues involving baseball, softball, soccer, etc.) do not receive operating funds from the city, but through volunteer coordination provide an activities resource for city residents and the youth.
In the absence of a parks board, user groups will work directly with city employees, Powell said, specifically Parks Director Joe Kays and Youth Activities Director Ron Paris.
Flanagan urged city leaders to make sure communication and access for the public remains open.