Parking board gets training on open meeting laws; public participation
The Parking Advisory Commission was among the first to get a training session since the City Commission adopted new training requirements for members of all city boards and commissions.
City Attorney Sara Sexe reviewed open meeting laws and public participation with the PAC during their Monday that was also attended by Mayor Bob Kelly and prospective PAC member Jeff Patterson, of Schoolhouse IT. Patterson has applied to fill a PAC seat vacated by Dave Snuggs when he resigned last week.
City boards, such as the PAC, “are in essence an extension of the commission,” Sexe told board members. “You have to follow all the same processes.”
The Montana Constitution also requires that the public be able to participate in public meetings and observe public meetings.
If a quorum is present, whether physically or electronically such as in emails, it constitutes a public meeting and a government board shouldn’t discuss any public business if the meeting wasn’t publicly noticed.
This was a recent issue for the PAC when the board chair sent emails to the entire PAC, other elected officials and city staff seeking discussion on parking issues. City staff immediately responded to the email instructing the board members not to reply all since it could violate open meeting laws. Sexe also had a conversation with the board chair about the emails.
Craig Raymond, city planning director, said he’s discussing technology options with other city staff that would allow members to participate remotely via Skype or similar technologies and be projected on the wall so that they are visible to the board and any members of the public at the meeting. That would be an option should a member be out-of-town or otherwise unavailable to attend the meeting in person.
Mayor Bob Kelly thanked PAC members for serving the community and thanked both Dave Campbell and Snuggs for their service as members who recently finished their time on the PAC.
Kelly said that some of the members were here last year when the City Commission approved some recommendations from the PAC and said the community saw that the PAC was trying to make improvements to the city’s downtown parking system.
“Our expectation is not for you to get everything right,” Kelly said. “We’re never going to please everyone. I hope you do try new things.”
He said the commission was ready and willing to consider proposals and recommendations from the PAC.
Kelly told the PAC and staff about some complaints and questions he’s heard from residents and visitors lately.
One included a motorcyclist who got ticketed for backing into an angled space on Central Avenue. Under city code, backing in to angled spaces is prohibited. City staff and the local SP+ manager said they don’t enforce that rule for motorcycles and have updated the attendant who wrote the ticket of that internal policy.
Kelly said one woman asked if the courtesy ticket could be extended beyond time violations, for infractions such as straddling a meter, which is a $20 fine.
Katie Hanning, PAC member, said courtesy tickets for first offense time violations equate to about $65,000 and the parking program has about $500,000 in deferred maintenance so she wasn’t in favor of expanding the courtesy tickets.
Courtesy tickets will likely be part of the PAC agenda next month and the group will resume their strategic planning process.
City staff walked the PAC through revamped financial documents since several members had indicated the regular documents were difficult to understand.
Raymond said that SP+ has been taking on more responsibility at the request of the city and is now managing items like the snow removal contract. That saves time for city staff and is more efficient, Raymond said.
Since the parking fund doesn’t receive general fund support, Raymond told the board members that the goal isn’t to make a profit, but to generate enough revenue to cover expenses and have an 18 percent fund balance, which is required by city policy.
PAC members again asked staff on Monday if the general fund could or would support parking needs, but Raymond reiterated what commissioners and City Manager have said for years, that no general fund dollars would be allocated to parking now or in the near future since funds are limited and already stretched for public safety and other city services.
Unpaid parking fines remain a challenge for the parking program and The Electric is taking up the tradition of posting unpaid parking fines of more than $50. For reference, a first time violation is $5. The time violations then increase for subsequent offenses and parking in handicapped spaces without a placard or license result in $100 citations.