Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - Updated: 2:09 AM
Legal doesn't always equate to ethical. It's a lesson Cadiz City Council would do well to remember.
The last six months have been tumultuous, to say the least, where city business intersects with local tourism efforts. What began with a disagreement on how some council members felt the Cadiz-Trigg County Tourist and Convention Commission was spending too much on advertising has turned into a full-blown soap opera, complete with rumors of threats to pull the city's restaurant tax and a stranglehold to ensure pet projects would receive funding.
Not that anyone would have actually heard about this in open meeting, of course.
Let's revisit the situation. In recent weeks, Leadership Trigg -- a partnership of young professionals in Cadiz-Trigg County Chamber of Commerce -- has developed a plan to construct a multi-use practice facility proposed for construction at the Trigg Recreation Complex. The facility, which could cost an estimated $200,000-plus, would primarily be geared toward the community's youth and provide an indoor facility for baseball, softball and other athletic programs to utilize. The building could also be used to host vendor fairs, trade shows and other events for resident participation, according to organizers.
Leadership Trigg has brought its proposal to a number of local governing agencies, including Trigg County Fiscal Court, the Tourism Commission and Cadiz City Council. The goal, organizers have said, is to unite these agencies in fundraising and construction efforts.
We're not going to debate the merits or drawbacks of the proposal. We applaud Leadership Trigg members for working to properly plan and develop strategies to execute on what members see as a worthy endeavor for the betterment of the community at large.
We do take issue with the way some of these governing bodies have elected to proceed with the proposed project, however.
In a sudden turn of events, the Tourism Commission voted to commit 25 percent of its restaurant tax collections -- to include the 5 percent fee it typically paid back to the city for collection and disbursement -- to fund a parks and recreation committee. This committee would fund and oversee the construction of the multi-use facility and future activities or projects that would fall under the umbrella of parks and recreation.
Two things are important to note in this scenario: First, this committee has not yet been established. Forming a body funded by taxpayer money, as this one would be, requires an ordinance or a resolution implemented by the city.
Second, and of equal weight, every member of city council was present at the tourism meeting, and everyone in that room knew precisely what was going on, despite no proposal for said committee having been discussed in a city council meeting. In further review, we discovered Councilman Kyle Cunningham had drafted a plan for the committee and shipped it on to Tourism Commissioners to suggest they consider implementing this course of action.
To make matters worse, council members made no bones about the fact that they'd been discussing the plan ahead. When asked exactly when this ball of wax had gotten started or where it was discussed, the answers suggested it was a matter of these two guys run into each other in the store, and maybe another two see each other elsewhere. However, when you have an entire panel show up at another agency meeting in a show of what some called "support for the project" but could have been construed as an attempt at intimidation, it speaks volumes. This was far more organized than a couple of councilmen running into each other at the store. It was blatant, and quite frankly, just shady.
The matter has, as of last week, not yet been brought up in official motion for discussion at a city council meeting, nor have members taken any active vote. However, it's quite clear that members have already decided exactly what they intend to do, and herein the problem lies.
Cunningham specifically stated "You have to have three for a quorum," and this statement is true. However, just because council members can skirt the legalities, doesn't mean they should. In doing so, even discussing business outside open meeting, the council has effectively circumvented public opinion and accountability.
It's your money, folks. And in tiptoeing around the law, they can do whatever they want with it. While it seems like a harmless project to many in this instance, what happens when it's not?
We don't know how much of this can be attributed to over-zealousness or ignorance of ethics rather than deliberate disregard for the public which they serve -- and we suspect it is more of the former than anything -- nor are we so blind as to think that City Council is the only government body guilty of such things.
But, come on. All it would take, should a councilman be approached with an idea or have an epiphany on their own, would be a phone call to the mayor or city clerk asking to have the matter put on the agenda for discussion at the next meeting. Or, bring it up in comments and ask members to consider it and then place it on the agenda for the following meeting. If it's a matter that needs to be expedited, hold a special-called meeting.
These are simple enough steps that ensure city accountability and fair disclosure to the public for input. We hope the city -- and all taxpayer funded entities -- will remember them going forward.