Thursday’s City-County Liaison Committee meeting was by far the most productive gathering in more than a year, because it is the only time in that span anyone has showed up.
A fresh start?
Dozens of concerns pop up on a regular basis at both Johnson City and Washington County commission meetings and workshops, and there has been no lack of chatter on both sides for the need for better communication.
The committee, which was put together to do just that, last had a meeting at which major issues were discussed in January 2012. That was when an unexpectedly high number of Washington County commissioners showed up and openly and overtly pushed to get the city officially on board to sell voters on a local option sales tax increase to help fund schools.
Since that time — zilch.
There was no county mayor or city manager in attendance Thursday inside Johnson City’s Municipal & Safety Building, but there was a rustling of rebirth.
“This is a good forum for discussing issues — for listening to you and for you to know more about the municipal problems we’re having, even though we have no agenda and this is very informal,” said City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, who is not a committee member, though any and all city and county officials can attend. “The committee in the past has not functioned very effectively.”
County Commissioners and members Pete Speropulos, Richard Matherly and Phyllis Corso were on hand. So was newly elected Board of Education member Sheila Cox as well as David Tomita and Jenny Brock who also were elected Tuesday to serve on the City Commission. Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl also was at the meeting, which was indeed informal.
“I’m not sure what the purpose of the committee is,” Corso said.
“Sometimes I show up and nobody’s here,” Cox added.
Though they did so in very measured steps, the group talked generally about shared concerns: annexation, school finding and safety. But real progress was made when they agreed to take steps to make the committee work.
What is the committee’s purpose?
“We are more or less a bridge,” Speropulos said.
Brock suggested that an agenda for the quarterly meetings be put together and that a chairman be named at the next meeting. Stahl said he would pass that request on to City Manager Pete Peterson.
At last year’s meeting, Speropulos and County Commissioner Lee Chase raised the question of who, if anyone, actually chaired the committee or served as moderator. No one had any answers. They also asked if an agenda is normally formulated for the meeting. There had been none.
The result: Chase volunteered to head the meetings, but only as a moderator. He was not in attendance Thursday.
Last May, the group was scheduled to convene again, but that the meeting was canceled one day before it was to be held, apparently because “there was nothing on the agenda,” according to both city and county officials.
City Commissioner Clayton Stout expressed his disappointment at the time.
“Honestly, when you have two parties with this much on the table you need to get together,” he said. “Communication is the key if you’re going to succeed. With the challenges we’re facing, it doesn’t make good business sense to put these meetings off. I don’t know what the deterrent is there.”
Both Tomita and Brock on Thursday volunteered to serve on the committee. And, suggestions and requests for a reorganization and a stated purpose of the committee should soon be filtering through both city and county commissions.
“There are a lot of outstanding issues, and I think we can get some things done here,” Tomita said.
“We do need to capitalize on this opportunity,” Brock added.