Echoes of the past

Friday, February 10, 2012
Murray Bishoff

Since 1990, the Monett community has had two major fights with its city council. Echoes of both debates continue to come back for a visit.

At last week's meeting of the advisory committee that meets periodically to serve as a sounding board for the Monett City Council, Mayor Jim Orr announced that the $1 million lease purchase that allowed expansion of the Monett Municipal Golf Course to 18 holes had been paid off. The council under Mayor Jerry Fulp set up a $100,000-a-year payment schedule for the project.

Looking back, expanding the golf course was one of the most straightforward and well-designed undertakings the city has done. The expense did not squeeze the city government. The final product is very attractive and a fine asset to the community.

For those who don't remember the conflagration that erupted in 1990 over the previous city council's attempt to expand the golf course, the fight centered around two issues. Opponents felt the golf course only served an elite few, people who were well enough off that they didn't need a handout from the city.

The argument about the golf course elite will always be there. In reality, city services target specific groups one by one. Very few besides utilities serve all the people all the time. You don't see that many senior citizens at the North Park ball fields or children at the airport. The availability of all the services combined help the community as a whole.

The second issue about the golf course arose over the way the city council pursued buying property without public consultation. Monett's councils have been much more open ever since.

The other major fight from the early '90s was about the form of Monett's city government, and that issue resurfaced in comments made by candidates in Monett's primary vote this week.

There's no question that a three-person city council is an oddity. The winners in the public vote in 1991 over changing to an alderman-ward form of government trumpeted one message: if it isn't broke, don't fix it.

In the last 25 years, Monett's form of government has had two major failures directly related to its structure: the Gillioz Theatre and the purchase of land east of the city for flood control. In both cases, one commissioner said no. In matters involving significant money, one veto is enough.

There's no guarantee that a bigger city council would necessarily represent public opinion any better. The danger in trying to please everyone is that often no one is satisfied. The reason the city council was changed to a commission form of government in 1914 was because the nine-person city council was indecisive and unable to see the long view.

We should continue to have the conversation about how well Monett's city council is representing the public. It's a constant challenge. The two big failures may be attributable to not keeping the best interests of the public foremost in the conversation. Those who wish to argue for change will have to make a more compelling case, especially in an era when government is generally known for paralysis and inefficiency.

As it is, two mistakes in 25 years is not bad, and sometimes, as in the case of the golf course, it all turns out well in the end.