PHOENIX — A City Council plagued by complaints about open meetings laws violations started its session a half-hour earlier than advertised Tuesday, ruffling a few constituents' feathers. But City Manager Steve Dahl fessed up to making a mistake as the new guy on campus.
The City Council typically meets at 6:30 p.m. Mondays but met Tuesday because of the Labor Day holiday. Mayor Jeff Bellah asked Dahl, who was hired in July to replace former City Manager Eli Naffah, to advertise the meeting's time at 6 p.m. to accommodate a full agenda.
Dahl made the usual rounds, posting revised notices at the post office, Bear Lake Estates, Ray's Food Place and a handful of other locations, but neglected to send emails to recipients and local news media.
Steve Schulman, a former council member who co-leads a Facebook page about Phoenix, voiced frustration over the early start.
"When I came in a few minutes before 6:30 p.m., I thought they were just chitchatting until I realized they had already started the actual meeting," Schulman said.
Bellah called the mixup an honest mistake and said he was disappointed people thought it was intentional.
Tuesday's meeting included a presentation by urban renewal lawyer Rob Sullivan, who discussed improved communication, future planning and whether to have an independent agency versus council members serving double-duty as an urban renewal board.
The City Council and the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency have differed in the past few weeks over the fate of the historic Steadman house.
PURA wanted to move the house to property the city could purchase next door to City Hall and restore it to jump-start downtown revival and provide needed space for public gatherings and PURA offices. But council members rejected the project.
Both Bellah and Schulman acknowledged the timing of the incorrectly noticed meeting wasn't the best. Schulman had filed an ethics complaint with the state in July accusing the city of violating state law by discussing Dahl's salary and the appointment of labor negotiators in executive session.
Bellah has publicly stated that the city would strive for as few closed meetings as possible.
Dahl, whose assistant, Deputy City Recorder Janette Boothe was absent Friday, acknowledged his mistake but said it was nothing more.
"I firmly believe that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. I'll either learn to do it correctly or I'll never let Janette have another vacation," Dahl said jokingly.
"I've been here six weeks and I screwed up. If this is the only real screw-up in my first couple months, I can live with that."
Schulman said the city could have acknowledged the mistake to audience members who appeared, mid-meeting, at 6:30 p.m.
"People do make mistakes, but there's some back history with this council and how they handle meetings. They basically made the change on a Friday before a three-day weekend, and if you don't go to the post office, you don't get to know they changed it," he said.
Bellah said a second meeting would be held to discuss urban renewal. That meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com