Mayor Yuri Kostick opened a discussion concerning code of conduct rules for the Eagle Town Board by outlining 28 separate projects the community is launching or planning in the coming months and noting that the ongoing conflict over written communications from member Brandi Resa is distracting Eagle from the work at hand.
The subject proceeded to consume the majority of the evening's debate.
At the beginning of the meeting, Kostick noted the proposed conduct rules constituted a board discussion and not a public one. However, several area residents attended the meeting to speak on Resa's behalf. They questioned the code adoption, suggesting it represented an assault on Resa's First Amendment rights.
"First Amendment Rights and Freedom of Speech are not up for debate," Kostick responded. "I believe censorship is un-American and will not be tolerated."
However, he noted that other members of the board have issues with the content of the blog. Kostick said that the tone of her writing is contributing to a negative perception of the town.
For instance, Kostick noted that Resa has repeatedly written blogs about errors in the proposed 2013 budget. Tuesday night she again stated her budget concerns have not been addressed. Kostick said when she brought forward her concerns, staff responded that the numbers were a typo and corrected the data. The board then requested quarterly financial reports be prepared so members could examine town finances on a more regular basis.
"In my mind, you got the resolution you are looking for," said Kostick. "Your interpretation of what is happening here is not what has happened here."
Resa noted that she is the sole member voicing certain concerns and because she does not have support on the board, she airs her issues on her blog. For instance, she cited a chief ongoing complaint - a recommendation from the town's auditors to be more aggressive in billing and collecting fees from developers for reimbursements.
"I don't think it is acceptable that we are not billing developers for costs," said Resa. Noting that she is a CPA and that the budget is a large concern for her personally, Resa said she believes it is her obligation to tell citizens about financial issues such as reinbursables.
When a large scale development - such as the commercial/residential Eagle River Station project or the residential Haymeadow project - is presented to the town, staff time and consultant fees are billed back to the developer. Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell emphatically stated that the town does bill and does collect fees for those services and that the auditor's remarks reflected the goal of having payments happen in a timely fashion. During 2012 the town of Eagle billed $100,529.69 to Eagle River Station for reinbursables. The amount that is outstanding is $28,187.31 and the latest bill was sent Dec. 11. Last year, Haymeadow was billed $54,565.87 and the amount that is outstanding is $17,115.08, billed Dec. 11. All other developers are current on payments. The only other outstanding unpaid reimbursable bill for 2012 is $535 for all the records associated with the Eagle River Station hearing, which was requested by and provided to Jan Rosenthal and the Citizens for the Future of Eagle and billed May 16.
Town board member Joe Knabel noted that issue of reinbursables reflects his concern with Resa's blogging - that the issues she brings forward are sometimes misleading.
Knabel noted the reimbursable issue was one suggestion from the auditors in a "list of items for continual improvement." However, Knabel noted, the dominant theme of both the audit and its accompanying management letter was that the town is in strong fiscal condition and that its finances are in "excellent order." The heart of the issue was that the town staff did an excellent job on financial issues, not the reimbursement suggestion, noted Knabel.
Resa noted that she has made several suggestions regarding better financial reporting that staff and the board has not followed up.
"I take extreme issue with that. I am following up," said Kostick. "There's a difference between critiquing and participating. The critique part is simply throwing mud and I don't think that helps."
Because she is often the only member of the board who takes dissenting position on a topic, Resa said her blog is the platform she uses to present her viewpoint on a given issue.
"Sometimes I go silent and put my frustrations on the blog," she said.
"You have been elected to have those discussions with six other people and you have been doing it more on your blog than in this room," said Kostick.
Knabel noted that as a town board member, Resa has a responsibility to follow through with her opinions and that raising questions and blogging about them is not the right way to approach the issue.
"I am not in favor of blog postings that call any of us on the carpet for unethical behavior. Those concerns need to come here and be talked about in an open format," said town board member Anne McGibbin. "What I am asking is if there are truly issues, they get brought up here."
During the code of conduct discussion, various members questioned whether adopting a specific ethics code was in the town's best interest.
Town board member Scot Webster noted one of the citizens who spoke on Brandi's behalf stated the board should simply follow the Golden Rule and he agreed with that analogy.
"When Brandi's blogs are factually incorrect, that is what bothers me the most."
Town board member Scott Turnipseed echoed that concern. "I don't like that some of the things that she is saying aren't true," he said.
Turnipseed noted that earlier this year, when he forwarded an email to a group of people that was uncomplimentary about Resa, he was out of order as defined by the code of conduct.
"It was my right to do that, but it wasn't the right thing to do. The mistake I made was not being supportive of another board member," said Turnipseed. He noted he has repeatedly apologized for his behavior and the incident made him realize it is the town board's responsibility to treat one another, the public and staff with respect.
"If we are not doing that, someone should tell us," said Turnipseed.
He asked Resa if she would support the town's adoption of a code of conduct. She responded that the rules would help spell out how board members treat one another and she would support the adoption.
"I will take the criticisms into account. I think I am a reasonable person," she said.
After a lengthy discussion of the issue, the town board members agreed to re-examine the proposed code of conduct rules to determine if they want to adopt them. Members said they will re-examine the proposed wording and offer suggestions and determine in January if they will approve the conduct rules.