Phoenix, Talent could use more sunlight
City councils in two of Jackson County's smaller cities seem to be going out of their way to keep the public in the dark about city business.
In Phoenix, the business in question is the hiring and firing of city managers. In Talent, it's the city's approval of a controversial housing development. But in both cases, rushed special meetings contribute to the perception that public involvement is not a high priority.
The Phoenix City Council called a special meeting March 8 to fire City Manager Jamie McLeod, who was hired in November. Three city department heads had complained about her leadership style, although McLeod indicated city management practices lacked checks and balances and may have violated state ethics and public meetings laws.
We're not second-guessing the council's decision to fire McLeod — city managers serve at the pleasure of the councils that hire them, and we don't know the full story of what is ultimately a personnel matter. But McLeod's reference to public meetings laws was on point.
That became clear when the council held a second special meeting to interview just one candidate to replace McLeod on an interim basis, former Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner. Not only was the position not advertised in advance, but the mayor invited Kanner to attend the meeting, where he offered the council advice.
Councilor Sarah Westover said she was confused by the meeting because it was held before the council had even discussed the qualifications they wanted in an interim manager.
The council decided that the interim position should be advertised for less than a week after Kanner's interview, which Mayor Chris Luz said helped the council with setting goals, planning and finance. Certainly Kanner is a qualified candidate for the temporary job, but anyone else hoping to apply will start at an obvious disadvantage.
In Talent, the City Council decided on March 6 to hold a special meeting on March 8 regarding a proposed housing development on Talent Avenue. The city sent an email to the Mail Tribune's general news address about the meeting, but made no special effort to make sure the public knew it was happening.
After the previous regular meeting of the council, the public was led to believe discussion of the development would continue at the next regular meeting on March 15. Instead, the council voted in the March 8 special meeting to grant a variance requested by the developer.
The Planning Commission had voted 5-1 to deny the project because opponents said it violated city development standards.
It's not clear why the council felt compelled to hold a special meeting a week before the regular meeting. After the project received final approval on March 15, the developer said he would wait three weeks for the appeal period to expire before starting engineering work, so apparently there is no rush.
Government works best when the public it serves is aware of what it is doing, when it is doing it and why. In both of these situations, the elected officials involved have some explaining to do.