Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mill Mountain Advisory Committee – what is it good for?

Ray Ferris interrogates the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee members. SOMETHING’S UP – I CAN SMELL IT. They have PLANS for the mountain and they don’t want them in the way.

Absolutely nothing” said Councilman Ray Ferris at Monday afternoon’s city council meeting. Well he didn’t exactly say that but the defense attorney pleaded his case for sinking the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee.

Councilman Ray Ferris was on defense Monday afternoon as he and other council members questioned the purpose of the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee. The committee has existed in some form or another since1965.

All of Mill Mountain is under a conservation easement except eight acres set aside for possible development.

The MMAC has been targeted for either minimization or elimination. One by one five speakers took the podium to plead for the committees continuation as the caretakers of Mill Mountain.

Ferris along with other council members either wanted to make it an “ad hoc” committee or have it shoved under the Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board. The all-volunteer nine-member committee meets five times a year for one hour said Chair Dr. Nancy Dye. One member of the Parks and Recreation Department attends.

Ferris began the discussion reluctantly saying, “I was criticized for apparently being … ah … some folks believed I was lobbying … ah … behind closed doors and not in public for this in some form or another so I wanted to get it on the floor.” It was all over the floor for over an hour.

Ferris wasn’t satisfied with the documented history of the MMAC and asked city attorney Dan Callaghan to research and fill in the gaps. Callaghan introduced evidence that said in 2009 bylaws were requested by city council and the MMAC complied but later failed to act in either making them an ad hoc committee or a standing committee. The evidence was admitted and marked “2B or not 2B.” That was the outstanding question on the future of the MMAC.

Eeek! Ferris said he could find no purpose for the committee.

Councilman Dave Trinkle spoke at length saying, “the biggest thing we’ve done is not develop [the mountain].” It will be up to leaders 30 years down the road if a development proposal were to come forward for the eight acres he said.

In 2009 Trinkle recalled that the committee was loosely formed. “I believe it has mostly functioned and should mostly function as an ad hoc committee.” It would form as needed should a development proposal come forward or for any other reason and they would report back to city council. “Short of that there is not much activity on the mountain. That’s the way we want it,” he said.

Ferris persisted hammering the point home asking a barrage of questions.  “What is the MMAC, are they ad hoc, are they permanent? If they are ad hoc do they have a mission? If they don’t have a mission … why are we continuing to perpetuate the existence of the committee?” Speakers were waiting to be heard. I swear I saw Ferris begin to transform into Perry Mason.

He thought if a proposal for development came 20-30 years down the road that “that was the time to fill those slots” on the MMAC.

Council members repeatedly expressed that the committee should consist of a cross section of the city. Councilman Court Rosen said he preferred that they be an ad hoc committee so when needed a “committee that is representative of all four quadrants” could be formed.

“For goodness sakes we gave it away – there’s eight acres left. If that’s the only thing that the city has any say-so over … if the city is going to maintain support over it  – what have they done,” demanded Ferris. Based on the history Ferris concluded that the answer was “very little” as I swear he morphed again – first turning green then turning into the Grinch and then a dog appeared on top of his car. OMG save the dog and MMAC!!!

At one point Ferris mistakenly called Mayor Bowers “your honor.” Ferris is a defense attorney and masterfully skirted the absurdity of his questioning. Did no one notice I thought?

He mentioned the Valley Forward development proposal saying “but then after that they did nothing and quite frankly no other park in this valley has a standing committee for eight acres of land. I don’t think there is anything they could advise us on. That’s really where I’m going with this.”

“We are the eyes of Mill Mountain,” Betty Field MMAC member declared softly. She said they clean up trash left by street people and they have kept ATVs off the mountain.

Dr. Nancy Dye chair of the MMAC said that council should be respectful of the Fishburn family who donated the mountain to the city. A family member is represented on the committee. Dye made the case for Mill Mountain’s uniqueness and said it should continue as a standing committee. “There is no provision in [Parks and Rec Advisory Board] bylaws for a subcommittee,” she said.

Dr. Dye noted that the Parks and Rec Advisory Committee only has a 55% attendance rate versus the MMAC that has eight of nine members attending every meeting. Their current project addresses the crumbling Prospect Road wall and the committee is seeking funding and historic status to address it.

Answering Ferris she said, “I think you should not just think of Mill Mountain as the mountain top.”

Well Ferris must have ascended to the mountain top because “he didn’t see the connection and why Parks and Rec can’t serve that purpose.” The committee is the eyes and ears of the mountain answered Dye. She produced a stack of minutes that were kept with Parks and Rec that Ferris had overlooked. Dye said she was under the impression that since they had formed bylaws and established member term limits as requested by city council in 1997 that they were already a standing committee. An ad hoc committee would lose institutional memory and continuity of stewardship of the mountain she argued.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch asked, “should we have an advisory committee for one park or feature in the city and not others?”  He later thought as an option they could operate like a neighborhood organization making their own rules without council interference.

Deliberations are continuing on restructuring other committees and commissions said Trinkle. “It’s something we are doing globally,” he said. Looks like the MMAC is not the only committee targeted for termination behind closed doors.

Councilman Sherman Lea said, “we need to go ahead and make a decision.” (The only sensible thing I heard any council member say.) Dye concurred and asked council to make a decision and not “kick the can down the road.” She expressed frustration in the outstanding appointments waiting council’s approval.

Rosen said it boiled down to efficient use of staff time. He favored an ad hoc MMAC.

Rosen, the Mayor and all other council members waffled and in the end what do you guess council didThat’s right they “kicked the can down the road.”

Big Bird, Mill Mountain and smaller government

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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