Two measures approved by the Alma City Council that placed parks department duties under the city planner and increased his salary were vetoed by the Alma mayor on Friday.
Mayor Keith Greene vetoed Ordinance 2017-18 that placed direct supervision of Alma Parks Department employees and oversight of parks, including maintenance, budget and operations of all city parks, under Alma City Planner Buddy Grey.
Greene also vetoed a resolution passed to increase the city planner’s salary from $48,000 to $59,000 with a correlating increase in benefits based on the new responsibilities. The increase in salary was directly tied to the added duties, said Alma City Attorney Rinda Baker.
Council members unanimously passed both measures at their June 16 monthly meeting.
Greene was not available for comment, but in a letter accompanying the vetoed measures he gave a reason for his actions. Greene states that, in his opinion, the emergency clause on the ordinance “does not state facts sufficient to comply” with Article 5, Amendment 7 of the state constitution.
Under Amendment 7, if it is necessary for the preservation of public peace, health and safety, a measure can become effective without delay, but the clause must state the facts that constitute such emergency.
Greene said that because the clause fails to show with facts that an emergency exists, it is invalid. The resolution increasing the city planner’s salary would then be considered a misappropriation of city funds, Greene said.
In an email responding to Greene’s veto, Alderman John Ware, who brought the two measures to the city council, disagreed with the assertion that the clause fails to show sufficient facts to justify an emergency.
“I would like to point out that these facts were discussed at length during at least two previous city council study sessions and that the mayor chose not to attend either of those sessions,” Ware wrote. “When drafting the ordinance, Alma’s elected city attorney believed that the emergency clause was sound and that it adequately addressed the intent (and) reasoning of the city council for adopting it.”
Greene’s comments in his letter reiterates those he expressed in the city council meeting Thursday, that the emergency clause was too vague and he didn’t see the need to put the ordinance into immediate effect.
Baker, who wrote the ordinance and emergency clause, and the resolution, told Greene at the Thursday meeting that the clause was “factually sound” and written “based on the concerns council members expressed at their study sessions.”
In an interview Monday, Baker explained why she agreed with council members that an emergency clause was appropriate, referencing language in the clause.
“Basically, the rule is, there must be a statement of fact that shows a real emergency exists,” Baker said. “A change that’s needed to provide proper supervision of employees, maintain the safety of citizens and protect city funds - those are all definite statements of fact.”
Baker also said the need for proper supervision and safety people in parks constitutes an emergency.
A list of concerns discussed by council members during their study sessions were outlined in Ware’s email as such:
• Allowing parks employees to drive city vehicles home even when they are not expected to answer “on call” situations.
• Careless allocation of park bond funds to operations and maintenance expenditures.
• Attempting to purchase an additional parks vehicle using bond funds without first seeking approval from the city council.
• Council members receiving phone calls from citizens regarding parks employees “not working.”
• Poor supervision of parks employees, lack of direction in managing their work time effectively and inefficient use of community service labor resources.
• Inability to direct employees to schedule general maintenance tasks such as changing HVAC system filters in city buildings - which has recently led to air conditioning system failures.
• Antiquated record keeping system for the Alma cemetery.
• High emergency repair costs at the aquatic park.
• Not appropriating sufficient startup funds for the aquatic park.
• Inadequate monthly reporting to the city council for the aquatic park and parks departments.
“As you can see, the language used in the emergency clause directly aligns with the council’s reasons for unanimously adopting it, while minimizing potential embarrassment to Mayor Greene,” Ware said.
“The council is not asking Mayor Greene to reduce his salary upon relinquishing these duties - the council merely wants to place these duties in the most capable hands as soon as possible in order to protect the use of city funds.”
Because now is the peak season for both the aquatic park and parks department, proper management of both is “of critical importance,” Ware said.
Alderman Jerry Martin echoed Ware’s comments.
“We didn’t want to list every item because we didn’t want to embarrass the mayor or step on any toes,” Martin said.
Council members were receiving confusing and vague answers from the mayor’s office about aquatic park expenditures, and discovered problems with how those expenditures were being approved, Martin said.
Martin also said the mayor has failed to provide an adequate budget for the aquatic park from general fund revenue, instead relying on parks bond revenue to cover yearly, recurring costs.
“Come to find out, the water park needs close to $100,000 in start up expenditures each year, and they had none of that,” Martin said.
Opening costs for the water park generally include starting salaries, pool maintenance and needed repairs, Martin said.
Council members addressed use of the bond money during on April 22, when they passed a measure limiting the mayor’s ability to use money from the city’s Parks Bond Fund.
Any expenses to be paid with the bond money now requires the approval of the council before debt can be incurred or paid, the ordinance states.
“We’re trying to make sure city money is spent the way it’s supposed to be spent,” Martin said.
Council members must wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting, set for July 20, to override the mayor’s veto, which Martin said is their most likely course of action.
A special meeting could be called to put forward an ordinance with new wording, but that ordinance also would run the risk of mayoral veto, Martin said.