City hall may return to five-day operation

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Mesquite City Hall may be open soon on Fridays, City Manager Andy Barton told a small group Feb. 20..

All that’s needed is for the city hall workers to ratify the agreement.

The contract has been in negotiations since last spring. If the contract had been agreed to in a timely manner, it would have gone into effect June 2013.

The city’s position has been negotiated by a special attorney from Las Vegas.

Barton said it has cost the taxpayers a little more than $80,000 to date. He couldn’t be more specific because he didn’t have the exact number with him.

Barton wasn’t in his office or at a city council meeting. He was in the Terrace Room at Wolf Creek Golf Course during one of the city manager’s Thursday morning “coffees.”

Barton makes himself available to the public at these monthly meetings, held at various restaurants around town for people to ask him questions or just visit. But he usually doesn’t drop $80,000 blockbusters on those people able to attend the work-day, morning meetings

John Williams was there and asked Barton about the cost. Williams told the MLN he noted Barton’s original estimate for the negotiator cost last year was $5,000. But that was quickly increased to the neighborhood of $25,000-$30,000.

Williams recalled when the council agreed to hire the special attorney, he was concerned that there was no limit placed on the contract.

“I followed (Mayor Mark) Weir out of the meeting and asked him if ‘we just passed an unlimited resolution’ and he looked at me like I was nuts and said not to worry about it. They would watch and make sure it didn’t get out of hand.”

That “don’t worry about it” attitude has been hanging around through the entire process. The June contract deadline arrived and there was no agreement. So it was extended 90 days until September. When the new deadline arrived the MLN asked the mayor what the sticking point was in the negotiations, would city hall again be open on Fridays as he had promised and how much the city had spent on the negotiator. Wier said he could not comment because the talks were ongoing.

After another couple of months fell off the calendar, the MLN asked city attorney Cheryl Hunt why negotiations were taking so long and what was the cost.

She advised that there was no problem and costs weren’t mounting unusually high. Negotiations simply weren’t being held that often because it was difficult to get all the parties together, she explained.

The  MLN suggested in an editorial on Feb. 6 that the mayor, during his Feb. 11 state of the city address, should say when city hall would be open five days a week and how much the negotiations were costing.

The mayor was mum on the subject.

But the following week, Barton releases the information, not in a city council meeting nor in an email press release sent to all interested parties but at one of his small gatherings.

Mesquite is known as a retirement community, but many folks here who are interested in how their tax money is spent hold down day jobs.

That’s why public meeting usually are held in the late afternoon or early evening: to allow the largest number of citizens to attend. We also mandate agendas for our public meetings so we know what topics will be addressed.

None of that pertains to Barton. He’s not subject to the open meeting law.

And it’s up to the public to guess what topics he may address at those
“coffees.”

But it’s good the public finally knows about the over-spending on the attorney.

Williams has high praise for Barton’s casual meetings, saying they are the only place where questions can be asked and answered He would like to see the mayor and councilmen also stage similar events.

There’s merit in that.

But it may be preferable for major announcements and disclosures to be done during the public meetings, where official records are kept and agendas posted telling you what will transpire.

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