Friday, May 12, 2006

CASE IN POINT By Joe Koester, Councilman Ward 9

Honey in the mouth; gall in the heart.
German Proverb

Week two of the non-majority selected council president presiding over the meetings has resulted in the longest meeting this council has had followed by the second longest meeting this council has had. We may very well hold the length record for any council meeting, in fact.

The Kneemiller Five (K5) continue in front of the camera and public to speak about their willingness to testify in the voter fraud lawsuit and then cut the legal funding out from underneath the suit; claim they want all the facts, then refuse to pursue any lead that points to wrongdoing; claim they are looking out for the interests of the city and then vote not to appeal a lawsuit in the hopes that the plaintiff will be a good guy and settle without damages!

In front of the camera, they speak about working together but use underhanded tactics to grab control of the president and vice president position.

I think what is the most aggravating about all of this is the sneakiness of it all not the end result. No power shift has taken place – we have been and continue to be a council split by a 5-5 vote. Each side can block the other. Sadly, the role of the legislative branch of government to act as a check within the system has given way to 5 members of council acting as an extension of the administration and therefore, provides the appointed administrator a lot of authority instead of placing this in the hands of the elected body. Council is checking each other while the administration receives a free pass to do whatever it likes. If council chooses not to spend taxpayers’ money on a new gate to the city garage, the administrator simply ignores their will, splits the contract into smaller ones that slides in under the city ordinance that makes council approval necessary if the expenditures exceeds $50,000. Furthermore, the administrator can rest easy knowing that he has the support of half of the council so no action will be taken against him anyhow even if it is obvious that he is simply avoiding the law in his actions.

What the Kneemiller Five can’t do legitimately by way of a vote, they simply let the administration do for them.

What the Kneemiller Five doesn’t seem to realize is that it’s the process that is hurt and the integrity of the elected office that suffers when they hand the gold building cart Blanc authority. Willingly the 5 surrender their authority because it serves a purpose that they agree with. The administration is working in tandem as a kind of ersatz council vote.

“We all need to get along” they might say one minute and then they arbitrarily withhold legal help to council members they see as unfriendly.

Time and again, I have seen Mark Brown agree that any and all of the council members should be able to rely upon legal council when they need it. The “other” five has never denied legal representation to anyone who has requested it. The mayor made much ado about not being given counsel during the council hearings on the Express Scripts matter, (or at least her spin doctors did); however, I was in closed session when it was stated that if and when any charges were made, legal support would be provided. The reason for this decision was actually demonstrated well by The Kneemiller Five – we did not even get to a point where the mayor needed a city-paid lawyer because the K5 was busy at work making sure that the hearings would go nowhere. They succeeded – so why should the city have wasted money on an attorney? Besides, the moneyed-elite came to her rescue and raised her thousands of dollars in a defense fund.

Another confusing and aggravating fact is that one of the most hated members by friends of the mayor and by the police department in council elected in 2004 was Mr. Bob Hoepfner. It was, after all, his “donut” remarks that offended our police and his desire for revenge on a mayor who had personally campaigned against him that caused so much controversy. Once he shifted his allegiance to the administration, wasn’t it arguably then the other “side” who had gained the most embattled council member? My question has always been, “what if Mr. Riddler had changed his allegiance leaving Reese and Hoepfner on the other side of things?” What would the sides have been then?

My solution is this: we all sit down as a council and draw names out of a hat. The first five drawn will be “one side”, the next five is the “other side.”

Maybe the drawing would look something like this: Riddler, Kneemiller, Greer, Gieseke, and Hoepfner. So then, that makes the “other side”: Muench, Brown, Weller, Reese, and me. Who would be the bad guys and the good guys now? Would we all get along and work together? Would we then vote to investigate election fraud; look into Express Scripts; subpoena witnesses concerning city insurance and conduct a forensic audit of the same? Would we enforce contracts as agreed upon; appeal lawsuits despite who it may be filing against us; and would we stop the administration from circumventing council’s role in such matters as moving the fire chief and his office by breaking up the contract into two six-month contracts full well that they will need to be at this location for at least a year?

I guess that if we hurried we might have a couple of weeks where we would do the right thing – then money, developers, engineers, and insurance brokers would enter the picture and one side would come out the “bad guys” all over again...