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Council forms plan for financial priorities

Sunday meeting ‘highly unusual,’ councilman says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn City Council has some goals for the city, which revolve around saving money while providing the same level of services to residents. At a 10 a.m. special session on Sunday, the City Council adjourned to a closed session to conference with labor negotiators and a real property negotiator, as well as giving a public employee performance evaluation of City Manager Bob Richardson. All five council members and Richardson were in attendance. City Clerk Joe Labrie did not attend the meeting. Richardson said it was not mandatory for Labrie to attend and that he took the minutes for the meeting. Councilman Mike Holmes said Monday that before the closed session he gave his opinion about the odd timing of the meeting. “I thought it was highly unusual to have a meeting on Sunday, and that the public did not have an opportunity to see the meeting was taking place until it appeared in the Journal on Sunday morning,” Holmes said Monday. Holmes said the closed session lasted two hours and 25 minutes and only four members of the public were in attendance when the council returned. There was no reportable action out of closed session, said Mayor Bill Kirby Monday. When the council began open session it set forth several priorities for city staff to research including community meetings, a performance-based budget, the possibility of becoming a charter city and beefing up volunteerism in Auburn, according to Kirby. Councilman Kevin Hanley said Monday in preparing for the performance-based budget the council would look at each city department and analyze how they spend money, how they provide services and what they offer the city. Hanley said he has suggested the community meetings be a part of the regular City Council meetings. During these meetings a staff member would give a report on a specific department, such as police, and then the public would be able to ask questions or make comments. “That is all related to this whole (issue of) how do we provide services at the least amount of cost?” Hanley asked. “How do we keep employees that provide good services?” Some recent meetings, however, have already lasted more than four hours and drawn public criticism. Kirby said the charter city issue is expected to come before City Council again at the March 28 meeting. Hanley said he thought Sunday’s meeting was productive, because it gave the council a chance to discuss how to move forward in fiscally difficult times. “The budget is really challenging this year, because the state is very close to taking the redevelopment (monies) – possibly $1.9 million in redevelopment from the city,” he said. Hanley said if the state decides to absorb redevelopment funds before Streetscape Phase 2 is contracted, that could end Streetscape entirely. The city is currently accepting bids for the project. “I think there is a lot of uncertainty of what will happen if they shut down the redevelopment agencies,” Hanley said. Richardson said the city is considering purchasing the property at 995 Lincoln Way for Streetscape Phase 2. The property was discussed in the meeting’s closed session. Holmes said if the city does look at moving forward with a charter, he would be concerned with the positions of elected city clerk and city treasurer. “I have been pushing to have that seriously looked at,” Holmes said. “It’s my opinion … we could get along fine without an elected city clerk.” Auburn residents have voted down this possibility in past elections. Commenters on AuburnJournal.com expressed concerns about the meeting intruding on residents’ church times Sunday morning. Hanley and Holmes said the meeting also prevented them from attending church. Hanley said he was scheduled as a lector at St. Joseph Church, but found someone else to take his place. Hanley said he doesn’t expect the council to hold meetings on Sundays often. “I think we can do a better job of scheduling these meetings in the future,” he said. Kirby said it wasn’t possible to hold the meeting any other day, because council members’ schedules conflicted. Kirby said the meeting needed to be held before the end of the month. “I respect people going to church, but the bottom line is no one could find another time,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com