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Sustainability Commission talks contentious at Huntsville City Council

HUNTSVILLE – Everything began on the usual note last Thursday as a local Boy Scout troop led the Pledge of Allegiance to start the regular meeting of the Huntsville City Council.

Then came the fireworks, and not the Fourth of July type.

These were the verbal kind.

A situation concerning Mayor Tommy Battle’s Sustainability Commission that has been simmering since it was introduced in September came to the forefront over a procedural issue when the night’s agenda was being approved.

John Meredith, who represents District 5 on the council, first questioned the legality of Battle forming a commission without the council’s input in December. Discussion continued among the members beyond that regular meeting. City Attorney Trey Riley assured the council that the mayor has the right to form advisory councils and commissions.

But that didn’t settle the issue, and talk surrounding the commission took center stage Thursday. This time, the commission approval was on the agenda, but was postponed as was an amendment brought forward by Meredith that would give the council input.

Meredith protested, saying he had conferred with three lawyers on his own time and dime to look at the matter. He insisted that once it was on the agenda it could not arbitrarily be removed. Discussion about the commission, at times heated with Meredith and Riley the most involved, continued into the comments section of the meeting where each councilmember gets to speak on whatever topic they wish.

During his time slot, Meredith again raised issues about the commission and agenda. However, in a 3-2 favorable vote, the agenda item regarding the commission was postponed.

Meredith spoke on the subject Friday with 256 Today during a groundbreaking ceremony at the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering that is within his district.

“At the part where we approved the agenda, (Council President David Little) wanted to arbitrarily take (the Sustainability Commission item) off,” Meredith said. “And the point that Trey was trying to make, that the city attorney was trying to make was that it was at the approval of the agenda and they could do it. And my statement and my research and the help of some attorneys I talked to was that they can’t do it that way. 

“It has to have council action because it’s on the agenda. It was already something we had made motions on to deal with. When I brought up the thing about the special session (Riley) ,actually cited it properly. I can’t do anything because the council has moved on this, therefore the council has to act on it. But yet, when it came to sustainability commission, all of a sudden we just could take it off. But no, you can’t do that. And it was, you know, that’s what all the fuss was about. We can just pull it? No, you can’t. You know, you have to have, Mr. (District 1’s Devyn) Keith was the only one that realized the proper way to do it was for the body, the council, to do it.”

As it currently stands, the commission is in place. But Meredith will have to reintroduce the item if there is to be any more discussion on the commission. Meredith said he didn’t feel all of the members on the commission should have been named.

“So now I’m the sponsor of it and I’m not gonna withdraw it,” Meredith said. “So it will be dealt with. The timing is somewhat up in the air right now. And part of the complication is contrary to everyone’s popular belief and frankly the belief that I have is that the council should be in control of its own agenda in the city of Huntsville.

“It is not, which is why it miraculously disappeared when it was supposed to have been  on the agenda. We’ll see, but whenever it happens I’ll be the sponsor and we’ll move forward.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Little said he thought the council collectively had already agreed to remove the agenda item, something he said they do occasionally when the sponsor asks for it to be pulled. But Meredith had attached an amendment to the ordinance to give the council input on who would serve on the commission.

For the council to get involved and form a different commission, it would need three council members to vote in favor of the motion.

“Trey Riley says that this is in our city bylaws or whatever that the mayor has the authority to create his own advisory councils and commissions and appoint his own people,” Little said. “But then it turned into – it was an item that was on the agenda that wasn’t properly removed. (Meredith’s) contention was that once it was on the floor and an introduced item and that only the council can get rid of it.

“Well, our bylaws say that an item can be removed from a public agenda or postponed by the sponsor without a council vote. And there’s other language that says that it needs a council vote if it’s being postponed. We did vote to postpone it, but then (the sponsor) pulled it. So I guess it’s kind of a bylaw gray area.”

Battle originally assigned commission members to five-year terms but, by council rules, he can only appoint them as long as his current term. Joining the commission are ex-officio representation from city departments, including Planning, Engineering, Water Pollution Control, Natural Resources, Inspections, Landscape Management and Communication:

  • Chad Bostick, Bostick Design – landscape architect
  • Marie Bostick, Executive Director, Land Trust of North Alabama
  • Lisa Dyer, Matheny Goldmon – licensed architect, accredited LEED-AP
  • Lindsey Keane, RCP – developer of sustainable mixed-use urban projects
  • Sara Kovachich, ALTA – active transportation planner
  • Carey Martin Lane, Food Bank of North AL – Farm-food collaborative manager
  • Jared Mitchem, TVA – Regional Vice-President
  • Phoenix Robinson, TARCOG – community planner
  • Ankur Shah, UAH – earth science/physics
  • Andy Somers, Somers Consulting – civil engineer
  • Andrew York, SSOE – electrical engineer

The commission was established as part of an ongoing effort to keep a watchful eye on the community’s natural and built environment.

According to the city, the group will work directly with municipal departments in an advisory capacity to help guide recommendations outlined in the City of Huntsville’s Sustainability Plan. The plan was compiled by an independent coalition of leaders and experts who spent nine months assessing contributing factors to long-term environmental sustainability in metro Huntsville.

Stay tuned.

 

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