Saline City Councillor Christen Mitchell said she regretted her vote to eliminate street parking on the 200 block of Monroe Street and said the city should do more to reach out to residents who will be impacted by council decisions. Mayor Brian Marl said failure to notify affected residents was a mistake and the city is working on making better communication “the standard.”
On Aug. 6, city council unanimously approved a traffic order that eliminated on-street parking south of Oakwood Cemetery. The order was approved at the request of DPW Director Jeff Fordice, who told council that on-street parking caused poor sightlines for people leaving the new condominium development and pulling on to Monroe Street.
The traffic order was opposed by Darin McLeskey, who owns the historic Annin-Peoples. McLeskey just happened to be at the council meeting to listen to the discussion on the Fairdene development when he saw the agenda item that eliminated parking in front of his house.
He returned to council Aug. 20 and patiently waited until the end of the meeting to present council with a petition asking that on-street parking be restored.
During the Aug. 20 meeting, Councillor Christen Mitchell said she regretted her decision.
“I was able to hear constructive criticism that, upon hearing residents had not been talked to before these changes were suggested, that council could have taken a moment and paused right there,” Mitchell said. “And I expressed my disappointment in my vote in support of making those changes. I think we all could have a little more leadership and asked for a pause until residents are duly noted and engaged.”
The new traffic order is already in effect – although signs might not be installed for another 10 days.
Mayor Brian Marl said McLeksey has had several issues with the developer and that he’s considering facilitating a meeting between the two. Mitchell said she would have liked that information before voting.
“In this situation, it seems we rushed to decision without understanding the fill impact. I didn’t have the knowledge that this (McLeskey’s) property doesn’t have any type of a driveway and that we are waiting on the developer. That information is pertinent,” Mitchell said. “I personally regret my vote to support that.”
Mitchell asked council members to weigh in. Marl did. He said council has the power to reverse its traffic order. He said he’d be happy to work with Mitchell on a motion to rescind the traffic order. Marl also said council members unprepared to vote on a matter can ask that action items be postponed.
“The third thing I would say is, a best practice for all of us at the dais, as soon as we have a question or concern about an item that will appear on this agenda, the best course of action is to immediately send an email, pick up the phone and call the city manager before a council meeting,” Marl said. ‘Because nine times out of 10, what should be happening at the dais is that we are prepared to vote and prepared to articulate to our colleagues and constituents why we feel the way we feel and why we’re going to vote the way we’re going to vote.”
Mitchell said she appreciated the mayor’s words and offer to explore rescinding the traffic order.
She reiterated the need for the city to engage residents, saying that council members often can’t know what the issues are unless residents voice their concern.
Marl said the city made a mistake in this matter.
“Not effectively communicating with the affected property owner was a mistake. There’s no ambiguity about that. It should have been done. I’ve talked to the city manager. That will be corrected in the future,” Marl said.
Marl said the city is working on a standard method of communicating with residents when council is taking action that will impact them.
“That will be the standard,” Marl said.
Mitchell said hoped council members could take up the matter of resident engagement at a future meeting.
In a somewhat related manner, Mitchell said she has a meeting scheduled with City Manager Todd Campbell to discuss developer accountability.