News and Tribune

November 29, 2012

ZASTAWNY: Jeffersonville council president comments on mayor’s legal action

By ED ZASTAWNY
Guest columnist

— Dear Jeffersonville residents:

The city government system in Indiana is made up of two co-equal branches of government which includes the executive branch (mayor) and the fiscal/legislative branch (city council).

From time to time, disputes between these branches of government occur, and when this happens, it’s critical for all involved to communicate, to offer dialogue and be willing to compromise to develop a workable solution. Costly taxpayer lawsuits between these two branches of government should be the option of last resort.

I want to reassure you that the council has been trying, and will continue trying, to work with Mayor Mike Moore. Unfortunately, the mayor has chosen to sue the city council, and I’d like to comment on the three allegations in a legal petition filed against the council. My comments are not legal arguments, but rather an explanation from a practical and historical standpoint as to why the council believes it has been acting responsibly for the citizens of Jeffersonville.

The mayor is fighting the council’s approval of Redevelopment TIF claims. The council, which is the fiscal branch of government, has been reviewing and approving Redevelopment TIF claims since 2006 and this system has worked fine under the previous Waiz and Galligan administrations.

The council does ask questions and reviews claims, but to date I am not aware that the council has declined any TIF claims during 2012, so the council is not even sure why this was brought up by the mayor. The real question is why the mayor does not want fiscal oversight and what the mayor plans to do with all the Redevelopment TIF dollars.

During the next three years, it appears that the Redevelopment Department, which is controlled by unelected appointments, will have more than $20 million of Jeffersonville property tax dollars to spend. Does it make sense for unelected appointments to have free range to spend more than $20 million of property tax dollars over the next three years with no oversight from the elected fiscal body of Jeffersonville?

The Parks Authority system that the mayor is fighting has been in place since 2008. The Parks Authority is made up of input by the mayor and many citizen appointments to advisory boards — the Parks Authority Advisory Board; the Special Events/RiverStage Board; the Programs Facilities Board; and the Sports and Athletics Board — which make recommendations to the Parks Authority (which is comprised of the City Council members).

The Parks Authority has allowed more people to be involved in parks and puts the council in a better position to recognize the funding needs of the park system. It also has allowed the expansion of many park programs. One of the suggestions by Mayor Moore to the Parks Authority included the expansion of fitness classes (Zumba) at the RiverStage. The Parks Authority supported this idea and funded it appropriately ($36,000) to make this happen.

What does the mayor want to do within the Jeffersonville parks system that the current Parks Authority system is not doing? If the mayor has other good park ideas he should share them and the Parks Authority can help make them happen. The council believes the current parks authority system has been working well since 2008 and does not understand why the mayor wants to disband it and take it over himself.

It appears the mayor believes he is the only elected official allowed to oversee city communications to the public, but from a management and practical standpoint, we do not believe this to be the case. With the current communication position open, this gives the council a chance to look at this position and reconsider where the best place within city government is to oversee and manage city communication resources. Today, the elected city clerk and her department is responsible for attending and recording the minutes of all public city meetings — parks, sewer, drainage, city council, planning and zoning, etc. — and she is currently in the process of upgrading to new software to record and publish these meetings on the Internet.

As a result, although the clerk may not be involved in shaping the city’s future such as the mayor, it appears the clerk’s department might actually be the most well-informed and best department to manage the city communications person. Let me add that the council did not know the mayor was going to consider contracting public relations/communications services to a third party, and at this point we really don’t know enough about the services to be performed or about the PR company itself to say that contracting these services is a good solution or not.

I hope you, the taxpayers of Jeffersonville, better understand the important aspects of this dispute and that the council would much rather stay out of all the negative headlines and away from any court fights. I also hope the mayor reconsiders his lawsuit against the council and sees it as a needless waste of taxpayer dollars and withdraws it from the courts.

Finally, I also hope the council can quickly get past this legal action and get back to focusing our efforts on working with the mayor to make Jeffersonville the best place it can possibly be.

— Ed Zastawny is the Jeffersonville City Council President.