March 30, 2019 — The Florence Urban Renewal Agency (FURA) meeting for March was held last Wednesday at City Hall with an agenda that included updates on the ReVision Florence Project and a recap of the history of the agency.
There was a light turnout of citizens at the meeting which City Manager Erin Reynolds opened by giving a comprehensive review of the steps involved in the process used to create FURA.
City councilors Ron Preisler and Joshua Greene and Mayor Joe Henry were at the meeting in their capacity as FURA members, along with the full board. Two members of the board, Mike Webb and Dave Braley, were the subject of a clarification from Reynolds.
That clarification stems from the adoption of City of Florence Ordinance 1, 2019 which codified the appointment process for FURA members. The change adopted at the March 18 City Council meeting states that the mayor approves all appointments to city committees, which includes FURA.
The implementation of the new ordinance, the impetus of which was based on the opinion of City Attorney Ross Williamson, means that Webb and Braley were not properly seated and the positions held by the two will need to be filled using the approved process.
“We have two positions that we know expired January 2019. And now that the appointment process has been clarified, and with the new knowledge gained, we understand the Urban Renewal Board didn’t have the authority to temporarily accept and appoint the two open positions that are currently held by Dave Braley and Mike Webb, to the positions that we did at the last Urban Renewal meeting,” Reynolds said. “The city council, at their next meeting, will begin the process to fill those positions following the appointment process that has been adopted and very thoroughly explained.”
The realization by city staff that there were problems with the previous appointment process has also led to the recognition that the by-laws and policies under which FURA operates are in need of an update, according to Reynolds
“Now that the city has clarified things that are in its power, the FURA by-laws will need to be revised. The areas in which the FURA by-laws differ from city code should be updated so that they are in sync with city code,” Reynolds said. “Now is the time for us as staff to work with the board to review and update the by-laws. We believe it should be minimal, but it will be an opportunity for the board to also look at best practices for Urban Renewal Agency operations.”
The next major area of discussion was an introduction of a statement that Preisler submitted to other agency members and then read into the record. The statement recapped his objections to the approval at the March 18 City Council meeting of the process adopted for appointing committee members.
What followed next was an emotionally charged exchange between Preisler, Greene and Henry, which centered around the two councilors’ attempts to change the selection process for committees.
The introduction of Preisler’s statement prompted Henry to question the wisdom of using more time and resources to revisit a topic that has been discussed, considered and rejected.
“How much staff time and money and attorney’s fees do you want to spend? I’m really disappointed and believe that this is a smokescreen for you to make changes, where you claim that we made changes in the current guidelines, which we didn’t. You are the ones that want to make the changes. … So, I say to you, if you really want to push it you could bring it back to the council. But do you think anybody is going to change their vote?” Henry asked.
Preisler and Greene have repeatedly tried to make the point that the changes they are advocating for are not intended thwart the current mayor, but rather to adopt a more inclusive process, where a number of individuals are involved in committee appointments that impact the future course of the city.
They have also stated their belief that the full council should vote on the make-up of all committees.
However, Preisler and Greene appeared to be at the point where their desire to sacrifice time and energy on the issue are dissipating.
“Some of us on this council have always wanted to change the current process of appointing people to committees. We feel that it should have been an interviewing process that included the full council… But I am not here to continue fighting this fight. I am done fighting this fight,” said Greene. “As a member of this community, I can no longer work and volunteer my time in all the ways I do for this city, and walk around feeling underappreciated, frustrated and angry — as if I am the bad guy that people are hostile towards. It’s no fun. This used to be fun. This is no longer a joy. So, I think this conversation has been healthy, because we can all learn from each other. … Unless there is something else to be said, I think this topic has been discussed from every side and angle.”
The tense discussion seemed to end, and with it any future recommendation to the City Council to change the manner in which members of FURA are selected.
The need for updating the FURA by-laws does allow for some future flexibility in the way the two entities interact, but that relationship will be determined by the changes approved by the next FURA board.