Gold Star or Gold Phone?
Do your city representatives attend and contribute at regular public meetings, or do they basically phone it in? The following charts provide explanatory notes and the 2014 member attendance rates for the City Council, Planning Commission, Park & Recreation Board and the Board of Zoning Adjustments. The gold-star members with best attendance top each list. Look farther down for the others. Click here for the 2013 Roll Call.
1. City Council
The 11-member council comprises two elected members from each of the city’s five wards, plus one president elected at large. Members meet twice monthly in regular sessions and are paid $400/month beside other substantial expenses and perks.
This year there were 30 regular and special sessions of the whole council, not counting one meeting canceled due to no quorum. However, charting attendance for the City Council is difficult without considering the onerus meeting schedule of its five deliberative committees, where most issues are referred initially and thoroughly discussed before returning for a council vote.
This is especially true of the workhorse Finance Committee, which advises
on virtually every issue involving city funds, meets basically non-stop in September to review the mayor’s budget, and which this year brought on itself countless added hours of work after slashing the city’s transit budget by half.
Is a council member’s poor attendance at regular meetings counterbalanced by otherwise exemplary attendance and participation at committee meetings? This is a good question to ask certain ward representatives. It is not tracked here.
*Barry Smith is the council-appointed replacement for Ward 4 council member Jenifer Champ Wallis, who resigned July 14. Ms. Smith was sworn in on Aug. 25.
2. Planning Commission
Commission members are appointed by the mayor with no ward designation, serve six-year terms, and meet monthly. Working with city staff, the commission is the final word on development plans for major projects as well as the city’s Master Plan, whose principles guide all land use throughout the city.
The Planning Commission conducts the initial public hearings on all rezoning requests and issues an advisory opinion on each case before it comes to the City Council. Projects such as the new brewery on Central
Avenue or the expansion of the Exceptional Foundation are reviewed first by city staff and planning commissioners. In short, the commission’s 9 members are second only to the city council in terms of their influence on land use, business, and livability in Homewood. There are no professional planners on the commission or, unlike other city boards, any women members.
*Jeffrey Foster was seated in October to replace
Joe Falconer, who resigned on the day of the
April 1 meeting. He holds a dual position on the city’s BZA.
**Nicholas Hill replaced Battalion Chief Rusty McCombs
***Fred Azbik has applied for a Park & Rec at-large seat.
3. Park and Recreation Board
The 9-member park board is appointed in an open application and interview process by the City Council. Members include five ward representatives, four at-large posts, and a non-voting council liaison seat. The board meets usually no longer than 45 minutes each month to approve routine event requests and policies pre-reviewed by the Rec Center staff, headed by public services director Berkley Squires. The board also receives annual reports from the city’s recreational athletic programs for baseball, football, cheerleading, lacrosse and soccer. There are two committees –one over Facilities and one over Programs–which meet as needed and frequently don’t form a quorum.
The park board’s major issue this year has been riding herd over the expansion of the neighboring Exceptional Foundation. Earlier this year,
the board held an irregular and questionable email vote to approve a shared-use parking arrangement with the foundation and expedite its rezoning case. That agreement was later shredded in the wake of the foundation’s rapidly changing construction plans, which prompted a series of acrimonious showdowns over parking rights and communications. The council was largely unaware of the situation.
The park board posts some of the lowest attendance rates of any city board. The council liaison was absent two-thirds of the time.
*Michael Murray and Marjorie Trimm were seated at the Feb-
**Tyler Vail was seated at the March meeting.
***Paula Smalley has applied for reappointment. She is recovering after sustaining serious injuries in a late December pedestrian hit-and-run incident.
The Board of Zoning Adjustments is the panel that decides whether to grant
exceptions to zoning regulations for such things as building height and setback limits, but only when specific hardships on the property are present to justify them. (The board was criticized–and praised–this year for denying minor variance requests on a new house on Sutherland Place based only on neighbors’ distaste for its modern design.) Its affirmative decisions are not always minor ones. In December, it granted a substantial 1.8-acre variance to allow a brewery’s rezoning bid on Central Avenue to go forward to he City Council.
The council appoints BZA members to 3-year terms using an open application and interview process. Unlike other boards, the BZA must have a super-majority (four yes votes) of its 5 regular members to approve any
variance. For that reason, two extra members are appointed as substitutes, called “supernumeraries” (S) to vote in case of absences. One meeting this year was cancelled due to no quorum (four absences), and rescheduled.
BZA decisions are final (unless appealed in circuit court), which may explain why, in Homewood, the City Council has reserved for itself decisions on zoning adjustments for all commercial signage, front yard fences and driveways.
*Beverly LeBoeuf of Ward 2 was seated in December to replace Trey Schaefer, who moved out of the ward.
**The mayor appointed Jeffrey Foster in October to fill Joe Falconer’s seat, vacated in April.