NORTH RIDGEVILLE — City Council members say they fully appreciate the frustration and anger that boiled over at recent meetings during which dozens of upset residents pleaded for answers to the city’s flooding woes.
But they are split over making any change in a longstanding policy that allows questions to be asked, but prevents council from offering answers during public comment sessions.
Councilman Dennis Boose, D-2, said he is favors discussion between the public and council, but limit it to questions of a general nature.
“Too often it’s said if we let 30 people ask all the questions they want and get all the answers they want, we’d never have time to finish the business of the meeting,” Boose said.
“I don’t agree with that,” he added, saying many questions tend to be of a similar nature. “After a dozen or so questions are asked, you’re going to get the bulk of them asked.”
Questions would need to be confined to subjects of general interest, he said.
“You can’t have people asking about a specific circumstance like a problem with their driveway,” Boose said. “Those things need to be addressed one-to-one at city hall during business hours.”
“I tell people time and again that we are available whenever you want except at meetings,” Council President Kevin Corcoran, R-at large, said.
“We’re not going to give you answers then.”
Years ago residents had to wait until a point near the end of meetings to have their say.
“They would get irritated at having to sit here and wait and wait to speak,” Corcoran said.
That was when he decided to move the public comment time closer to the beginning of meetings.
Councilman Dr. Ronald Arndt, R-3rd Ward, agreed that move was a good one in that it allows questions to be asked that may wind up being answered by the mayor, safety-service director or other officials during reports each gives.
“A lot of people were so angry at those meetings that it didn’t make any difference to them,” Arndt said. “Had they been able to hear the mayor’s or engineer’s reports, they might have better understood what has happened to this point.”
Administrative officials may respond to people in the audience after each gives a report of his own on city matters.
Some, including Arndt, fear allowing an open-ended dialogue between residents and legislators would make meetings totally unmanageable by inviting “anybody to come on up and talk and have a debate.”
“We’d never get through this (meetings),” Arndt said. “If we’d gone through every upset person asking us to tell them exactly what we were going to do and why things happen, we’d still be at those meetings.”
North Ridgeville council bylaws say meetings have to end by 10 p.m. or be extended by a vote of members.
The current set-up is designed “for everybody’s voice to be heard,” Arndt said.
Councilman Robert Olesen, R-4th Ward, also favors the rule barring a question-and-answer format.
“The rule was installed to prevent meetings from going on forever,” Olesen said as he harkened back to the June 2 and May 19 meetings that saw dozens of residents address council for 45 to 90 minutes.
“With all those people wanting a response, we would have never finished our business,” Olesen said. “It is a very difficult situation.”
Corcoran said council members’ phone numbers and emails are readily available at www.nridgeville.org.
“People call me and I talk to them,” Corcoran said.
Boose said that he tries as much as possible to personally follow up with everyone in his ward who calls or emails him with questions.
At times he also works to have those people put in touch with officials at city hall.
Olesen hopes to provide answers and have a greater discussion with residents during a special meeting in the near future to lay before the community the city’s infrastructure needs, along with proposed improvements to its sewer system.
“People don’t want to hear we’re doing all we can to fix the sewers,” Olesen said. “What we’ve done doesn’t seem to be working.”
Olesen’s ward includes the Gina-Pitts-Gail Drive area whose residents have consistently experienced some of the city’s worst flooding in recent years.
Several options proposed by a consulting firm include cleaning plugged sewer lines, repairing cracked, leaking pipes and possible construction of a mega-retention basin that can hold 2.2 millions gallons of water and cost about $6 million.
Council’s Utilities Committee is studying a temporary hike of up to $10 in the fixed residential monthly sewer rate charge to pay for upgrades, but Mayor David Gillock favors a smaller permanent $5 fee to generate revenue.
A possible hike in the city’s 1 percent income tax, among the lowest in the area, is one possible means of raising money for sewer improvements, along with other upgrades that could include new fire stations and street improvements, Olesen said.
“We want to have a plan that gives everybody something,” Olesen said.