“I don’t understand why this was an emergency.”
Ligonier American Legion Post Commander and former mayoral candidate David Magnus said that at Monday’s special city council meeting called to vote on an ordinance dissolving the city’s park board and instead forming a park authority.
Considering all that transpired in the last week — and we stress “week” because the plan was first presented publicly on June 10 and completed on June 17 — we can’t help but echo that sentiment.
People often complain that government moves too slow for their liking, but the change over from a park board to a park authority happened so fast it seemed to spin heads on several Ligonier residents, even including people who work for the park department.
As we said last week in this space, we sympathize with the problem that Ligonier was facing. The Indiana Code designates certain requirements for a person to serve as a parks superintendent, with a mix of experience, certifications and/or education that would warrant a price beyond what a small city like Ligonier is capable of paying.
The park authority solution was created to solve that problem. Change the structure of how the park department is operated and overseen and you can hire a generic “director” with qualifications that the city deems appropriate for the job.
That being said, the entire process was shoved through the Ligonier City Council so fast that it was uncharacteristic of not only how Ligonier usually operates but how any of our local governments in Noble County typically operate.
As we wrote last week, the ordinance to form a park authority was brought up at the council meeting on June 10 without ever previously being mentioned before. There was a special park board meeting called the next day to transfer title of park properties. Then, there was a special council meeting Monday to quickly wrap up the job.
If someone had taken a week-long vacation to hit the beach or visit relatives out of state, they would have missed the entire thing.
Our publication had to call for an extra meeting with the mayor and city attorney to get answers to questions about what was happening, why and what effect it might have on the city because we felt those questions were not adequately addressed at the June 10 council meeting.
Ideally, city officials would have presented that information in detail up front when introducing the plan. Or, failing that, the city council members should have been seeking answers to those questions in a public meeting.
The reason why ordinances are read three times is to spread them out across several meetings and give the public — and the council voting on it — time to get and give feedback and think about the measure being passed.
If the city had proposed changing the speed limit on Cavin Street, or changing rules about how tall your grass can get before being issued a ticket, or increasing your water or sewer rates, we’d like to believe the council would take more than seven days to get input on it.
Emergencies do happen and require local governments to speed up the process to address a pressing issue. While having someone leading Ligonier’s park department is a key job for the city, it doesn’t feel like it rises to the level of having to ramrod a measure through, especially after it raised questions and concerns from constituents.
Although we don’t believe the change will cause any noticeable functional changes to the parks department, that’s hardly a reason to put the government machine into overdrive.
This isn’t how Ligonier usually operates. By acting so quickly, we don’t believe the city gave its citizens adequate opportunity to get involved in the process.
We hope this weeklong episode is a rare exception to the city’s normal operating procedure.