‘Don’t rock the boat’ - The great agenda debate stokes tempers at county council yet again

Staff Writer

    Editor’s note: The last paragraph of the article “‘Don’t rock the boat’ - The great agenda debate stokes tempers at county council yet again” was inadvertently cut off in the Wednesday, June 9, 2021, print edition of the Decatur Daily Democrat. It is being republished in full  here for our readers.

    Tempers flared at Tuesday’s meeting of the Adams County Council, where members rehashed an argument from last month regarding reports some citizens are being denied the chance to speak before council by President Yvette Weiland. These claims have not been substantiated by The Decatur Daily Democrat, but have been reported in public meetings by Councilmen Fred Velez and John Summers.
    The main combatants were Summers and Velez against Council Vice President Cory Sprunger, while Weiland remained mostly silent to maintain neutrality. At the center of the debate was Auditor Tony Mellencamp — according to a 2018 employee handbook engineered by Councilman Dennis Bluhm, it’s the auditor’s job to set the agenda, not the council president.
    While the discussion remained civil for the most part, things got heated toward the middle, when it became clear neither party could convince the other. Summers reiterated his argument from last month, saying, “I’m just still concerned about the council regulating itself.”
    “Why?” asked Sprunger. “Isn’t that what all legislative bodies do, they regulate themselves?
    “No, there’s a level of separation,” said Summers.
    Sprunger questioned why the issue was even up for discussion, prompting Mellencamp to speak up in a firm tone. Mellencamp said council must discuss it because, as things
stand, they’re not doing what they officially promised to do in 2018. County Attorney Julie-Marie Brown backed Mellencamp. 
    Here the discussion boiled over, with a few voices raised around the room as Sprunger continued to question the necessity of having a discussion at all. In response, Velez said he was stopped in a store again this past week by a citizen concerned about this issue.
    “There’s no transparency, in my opinion,” said Summers.
    “And we can’t have that,” Velez added.
    Going further, Velez said it’s fine to deny people a spot on the agenda if there’s a legitimate issue with their request, but council must make this policy clear, especially if they’re not going by what was previously adopted.
    “It’s not the end of the world to go back to what we set in 2018,” said Mellencamp as silence fell. “It just means Yvette and me will have to work closer together.”
    Weiland noted while there may have been recent complaints about the agenda, everything on this week’s agenda went through the auditor’s office except Dennis Bluhm’s speech thanking the health department, which wasn’t denied. Brown spoke up to say she understands Summers’s concerns about transparency, especially because the council president is supposed to be a totally neutral party, so “it would make sense for somebody other than council to decide who goes on the agenda,” to avoid any possibility of favoritism. Brown said she thinks this is what Bluhm was aiming for when he first put the auditor policy in place.
    As arguments held out, it became a test of wills, with all parties willing to concede small points, but no one willing to truckle under. At last, Summers muscled through suggestions that he drop the issue and made a motion to return to policy set forth by the 2018 manual, where the auditor must set the agenda.
    Velez seconded the motion, with Sprunger commenting, “I’m just saying, I wouldn’t rock the boat.”
    Sprunger and Councilwoman Cathy Mitchel were the only two to vote against the motion, which passed by 4-2 vote.
    “Hopefully we can address some of the inconsistencies and unclear messages we have,” Velez says.