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Ruth Herbel: 'We don't need a Cadillac when a Buick is OK'

Marion city councilwoman Ruth Herbel, running for another term, wants to change several things about how the council conducts business.

One is not making quick decisions.

“I think we need to add another public forum, so we can understand what the people want before we vote on issues,” Herbel said.

She also suggested mentioning a topic at one meeting then voting on it at the next.

“That way, the public has a chance to contact their council members and let them know what they think before items are voted on,” she said.

That’s not been the way the council has done things recently, she noted. When she has suggested waiting until a later meeting to make decisions, she’s often been outvoted by other council members.

The council needs to be more open about what it is trying to do, she said.

To help the city’s budget, she thinks the city should limit spending on equipment.

“I think we can limit the spending on equipment because we don’t need a Cadillac when a Buick be OK,” Herbel said.

She said the city’s budget process has been a sore point with her because council members have no chance to interact in the process. Instead, a budget is presented to the council for members to say “yes” or “no.”

Before setting a budget, she would invite each department head into a public meeting to discuss what is needed.

If the city needed to increase revenue, Herbel said, she’d prefer to increase sales taxes first.

She doesn’t like the idea of increasing property tax because not everyone owns property.

“In the utility rates, you’re hitting a lot of people who can’t afford the utilities now,” Herbel said. “My last choice would be utility rates.”

Herbel said the city could cut costs by reducing spending on equipment instead of buying new equipment every two years.

Preventing departments from overspending isn’t easy, she said. Under current procedures, if money has been allotted to a department, the council can’t stop the department from spending it. She would like to change that, noting that Gideon Cody had the police department remodeled soon after he was hired despite the project costing more than department heads are authorized to spend without getting council approval.

The department now has something no other city office has — a couch, Herbel said.

“They remodeled the police office after it was remodeled two years ago, and I think that’s all completely unnecessary,” Herbel said.

Having larger expenditures presented to the council for authorization would be one way of preventing such spending, she said.

“They could have come and said, ‘Can we remodel the office?’” Herbel said. “We could have decided at that time that it really didn’t need to be remodeled.”

Under Cody’s brief tenure, the police department brought unwelcome attention to the city with a raid on her home, the Marion County Record, and the home of the Record’s co-owners.

Asked what actions she might have done differently, she said she was blindsided in the hiring of Cody.

Herbel said Mayor David Mayfield told council members during the hiring process that Cody was friends with Sheriff Jeff Soyez, and Soyez recommended him for the job.

If she had it to do again, she would have vetted Cody better, even hiring a firm that vets officers.

“We have gotten into serious trouble over not doing that,” Herbel said.

Another fairly recent hire, former city administrator Mark Skiles, whom council members ultimately fired, cost the city a lot of money as well, Herbel said.

The city had to pay out several months of salary and benefits under the terms of Skiles’ contract.

Herbel would like to see more people attend council meetings and participate in city government.

Last modified Nov. 1, 2023

 

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