t’s been a sputtering start for the 11-member committee appointed by the Platte County Commission to study the county’s sales tax rates and make a recommendation in advance of the expiration of the half cent sales tax for parks in 2020. The county has indicated it will put a sales tax question(s) on the ballot sometime in 2020. County commissioners have indicated a desire to drop the amount of the park sales tax and add in an amount for law enforcement operations. As opposed to gathering general public input, the county commission named this hand-picked 11-member committee to give them a recommendation.
The committee’s purpose is described in a one sentence mission statement that says this: “To make a tax structure recommendation concerning dedicated funding for long term predictable financial stability that prioritizes law enforcement operations and supports parks and stormwater operations and maintenance.”
These are fine folks on this committee. They deserve credit for agreeing to serve. But this thing has been a cluster. And this isn’t being pointed out to be critical of the committee members, because if you talk privately to them many of them will use the same description of the meetings that I just used: cluster.
Here are some of the bumps thus far:
- There have been four meetings of the committee thus far. It took two meetings for the committee to get a nailed down clarification of what exactly their mission is as assigned by the county commission.
- There is no agenda drawn up in advance of the meetings and no agenda presented to board members or the audience at the meetings.
- The most recent meeting wasn’t given effective public notice. The first three meetings were at the Platte County Resource Center. The fourth meeting was moved to the Platte County Administration Building. At least one committee member, one county commissioner, one very important special guest (Platte County Circuit Court Presiding Judge James Van Amburg), two members of the media, and a few members of the general public showed up at the ‘wrong’ location because notice of the change in venue was not effectively communicated. (Sympathy to my fellow media members. I would have shown up at the wrong spot as well, but I was covering an unrelated public meeting and getting ready to head to the resource center when I received an appreciated text message shortly after 6 p.m. from one of the committee members telling me the tax structure meeting was in fact at the administration building and not at its normal location.)
- With no written agenda as a guide, topics and discussion points at the meetings have been scattershot. Sandra Thomas, a former county auditor, was named by the county commission to be chairperson of the committee. Thomas is an extremely intelligent person and was an excellent auditor for the county. I would not say leading a committee is out of her skill set but it does seem to be out of her comfort zone. I’ve been present to observe three of the four meetings held thus far. The chairperson has not provided direction via a written agenda and once the meetings get rolling there has been no guidance from the chair to keep the discussion focused and flowing in a productive manner. The need for agendas, better communication and more focused discussion hasn’t been lost on other members of the committee. Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, member Gordon Cook said: “We can do better than this.” He is right.
- Attendance of committee members has been a problem. This can’t be denied. There have been four meetings. Only three of the 11 members have a 100 percent attendance rate: Thomas, Gordon Cook, and Angie Mutti. At the most recent meeting held Monday, only six of the 11 were present for discussion. A seventh member showed up a few minutes before the meeting concluded.
We know these are busy and successful people so schedules are not easily matched. But come on. One member has hit only one of the four meetings. Three members have already missed two meetings. Four others have missed one of the four meetings.
Two of the four meetings had only a 60% attendance rate. That’s embarrassing.
One meeting had a 70% attendance rate. The very first meeting had a 90% attendance rate.
Again, these are professional and successful people so it could just be an inconvenient scheduling thing. But an argument could be made that if you’re that busy you shouldn’t have agreed to accept the appointment in the first place.
While it all could come down to inconvenience of scheduling, we could also speculate there’s something else at play. Maybe some feel what they’re doing isn’t going to matter all that much to the county commission in the long run. Others might feel the meetings so far have been nothing more than an information gathering process and they’re waiting for the juicier discussions. Others might be frustrated with the “cluster” previously mentioned.
It might be hard to get a true consensus from a committee when only half the committee is showing up.
Whatever the reasoning, the lackluster attendance rate is not a positive reflection on the county commission in general.
One thing made even more obvious from this is that a hand-picked committee giving a recommendation is something totally different from gathering public input. Let’s hope county commissioners don’t try to sell this committee’s work to voters as “public input.” Calling this committee’s work “public input” would not be an accurate description. Nowhere close to being the same thing.
An exercise in futility is defined as “pointless, an action that achieves no end or goal, a totally pointless endeavor. A useless action that cannot succeed.”
Speaking of exercises in futility, I have invited Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston to come on Landmark Live as a guest Friday night for a special show we’re doing from Parkville’s Christmas on the River. Still waiting for her response to come on to visit with us about the celebration.
With or without Nan, Landmark Live hits your phone/computer screen at 6 p.m. Friday at Platte County Landmark on Facebook. My ol’ buddy Chris Kamler will join me to co-host the fun. Brad Carl will sit this one out, citing fear of frozen phalanges.