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  • Last modified 93 days ago (Sept. 7, 2022)

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So far, so good

It’s way too early to tell for sure, but it seems Marion’s new city administrator is making laudable efforts to clean up things that somehow became less than tidy after two decades of predecessors not trained in his highly specialized job.

No reasons have been announced publicly, but the city appears to be playing things on the safe side by conducting a second hearing on whether it should raise its tax levy by 5.814% even if tax rates would stay about the same.

If the city’s initial hearing were challenged, it probably would be ruled legal. County officials did, after all, made an effort to mail notices, as required, 10 days in advance.

The fact that the notices didn’t arrive until seven days in advance — something that the firm that mailed them should have been able to predict — could be ruled a harmless error.

Still, it never hurts to be on the safe side lest the city, come November, be forced under state law to write refund checks to taxpayers for the 5.814% in increased taxes.

The administrator also agreed Tuesday night with a council member’s contention that a resolution wasn’t needed — and wouldn’t override — an ordinance in city code about who is to be in charge of releasing public documents.

Moving that responsibility back to the administrator from the city clerk merely means that the person most likely to make a decision on what to refuse to make public is the same person that whoever is requesting the information will ask.

That saves time, effort, and frustration on the part of city staff and those making requests. It’s just common sense.

Declining to renew a multi-year contract for what would amount to a second city-paid cell phone for every city worker — with a few extras to spare — was another good decision Tuesday night.

Keeping more than two dozen cell phones in boxes on a city shelf while they incurred steep service charges every month was a mistake born of signing a contract before details were known.

Eliminating the questionable practice of censoring the public versions of meeting packets sent to council members has been yet another positive indication.

We’re looking for other signs of change, as well, including perhaps an admission of whatever role the city might have played in giving developers of new rental homes a wrong address that has stalled the project for at least a year.

Was the city trying to unload restricted land in its industrial park — land that a dollar store earlier decided not to take? How else could the address have found its way into an application that otherwise was for land nearly a mile away, owned not by the city but by a private civic development group?

Still, we have found other small signs of change in areas ranging from code enforcement to personnel management.

We don’t expect city hall to admit it made a mistake when it attached a completely unnecessary clause to a charter ordinance allowing borrowing for street improvements.

The clause, which greatly curtails taxpayers’ right to vote on bond issues, was not at all needed and undoubtedly will delay the improvements because it is likely to be challenged by petition and forced to a referendum.

The same referendum on whether to curtail voters’ rights could have been used instead to approve the street projects.

The ever-dwindling numbers of people supporting what the city is trying to put through contend voters would retain a right to object to bonds, but experience of those trying to challenge the ordinance suggests otherwise.

Their challenge petition must be submitted within 60 days with about 40 signatures on it. The rules they are challenging would cut the appeal period to 30 days and require as many as four times as many signatures.

The fact that legal documents necessary to pass the challenge petition still have not been completed more than 30 days into the 60-day challenge period strongly suggests the proposed new rule is too harsh.

The city undoubtedly won’t overturn its own charter ordinance, but we remain encouraged that the city seems to be getting the type of guidance it needs to move forward productively.

So far, so good, administrator Mark Skiles. Now if we can just get Marion to resolve equipment and personnel problems at its waterworks and seek the type of fully forgivable loan Hillsboro is seeking to deal with the same blue-green algae problem Marion faces, we might be solidly headed in the right direction.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Sept. 7, 2022

 

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