Councilman George Rapson said he wasn’t talking about whether to approve the emergency recruitment and hiring of two firefighter paramedics but about the process of placing items on the council agendas and the public not receiving the same background material as the councilors do.
Mesquite Fire Chief Kash Cristopher placed an item on the Mesquite City Council meeting for Tuesday, March 14, requesting the approval of emergency recruitment and hiring of two firefighter paramedics.
The issue arose when the Mesquite Local News requested the agenda item either be removed from the agenda or tabled because background material made available to the council members had not been included in the public agenda packet and other information had been given to one council member and no one else, council or public.
“It seems that the last couple of months we’ve had some breakdowns in our process,” Rapson said about background material not being included in public agenda packets or items being rushed through technical review meetings. “The reason we do tech review is to have a complete backed-up agenda where we can, and the public can, ask questions. I object to this process that we seem to be falling into more often where we don’t have adequate or complete backup in the tech review agenda.”
While Rapson said he was probably in favor of hiring the paramedics, “I think it’s fair to say that we are entitled, as is the public, to a full packet in our agenda items whether it’s in tech review or full council. We need to adhere to a process and be consistent in that process. If it’s relevant to us, it’s relevant to the public.”
During the council’s technical review meeting on March 7, Fire Chief Cristopher and Deputy Fire Chief Rick Resnick discussed a spreadsheet containing data and information on the department’s workload that they had sent directly to the councilmen but not included in the public agenda background material. The Mesquite Local News objected to that and asked that the information be made available to the public in the council agenda packet.
It was not included.
Also during the technical review meeting, Councilman Dave Ballweg asked Resnick for additional data and information which Resnick said was readily available and he would share it with the councilman via Google Docs. That information was also not included in the published background material for the council meeting nor otherwise made available to the public.
Councilman Brian Wursten asked why the agenda item was introduced separately and not held until the upcoming budget hearings. City Manager Andy Barton later explained that the lengthy hiring process would not allow the new employees to begin duties on July 1 as the Fire Chief wanted.
Ballweg explained of the information he requested during the technical review meeting, “some I’ve received and some never did get to me. I’m assuming that when information is given to me it is given to all the council members.”
Ballweg added that it wasn’t the councilmen’s responsibility to make sure information is included in the background material available to the public but city staff’s responsibility. “It’s important that all this information and data is fed out to everyone so everyone has it,” Ballweg said.
Chief Christopher addressed the council and said “I’ll do whatever you ask. I gave you all the information. We were asked to give you the last seven years of budgets. We gave you all that information. Regardless of how I do this, I’m still going to need two firefighters.”
Christopher added that if the public wanted the information they could read the department’s synopsis provided to the newspaper every week.
However, none of that information includes the extensive data made available to the council.
City Clerk Tracy Beck, who is responsible for compiling the agenda packets, said, “I know where the gap is. The information gets sent to the mayor and council but is not sent to me. If it never gets to me, it never gets on the agenda. You’re not the only department head that does this.”
City Attorney Bob Sweetin said, “this issue was brought up at tech review last week. I spoke directly on this issue at the staff meeting the following morning. Emails sent to the council and mayor need to be sent to the city manager and clerk.”
Councilman Rich Green agreed with Rapson that approving the hire of two firefighters was probably warranted but he wanted the issue tabled for two weeks. “I prefer the information get to the public,” Green said.
“We lose nothing by waiting two weeks,” Barton said.
“For policy purposes, we need to delay this until the next technical review. I have the information but it’s not fair to the public if they don’t,” Ballweg said as he made a motion to postpone the agenda item.
Rapson, Green and Ballweg voted in favor of postponing the issue while Wursten voted against it. Councilman Geno Withelder was absent from the meeting.