Moscow City Councilman Aaron Ament said certain members of the city’s staff are “out of control.”. I see city staff in control,” he said. “(Mayor) Nancy Chaney was brought into office to bring them under control, but that hasn’t happened. If Nancy (Chaney) doesn’t want to step up to the plate, Nancy needs to leave too.”
Ament and Councilman Bob Stout said the recent ice rink controversy is indicative of a larger power struggle that has existed between the City Council and city staff for some time.
Moscow City Attorney Randy Fife signed and delivered a cease-and-desist order for the Moscow Rotary Veteran’s Memorial Pavilion ice rink at the Latah County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, one day after City Council members voted to set up a meeting with the Palouse Ice Rink Association and Latah County commissioners.
“We offered a fig leaf instead of a club to the head,” Stout said of the council’s decision to organize a meeting between the entities. “The city clubbed (the county) on the head.”
Stout had contemplated proposing a moratorium on special use permits in the R3 zone during Tuesday’s council meeting to keep the city from taking immediate action against the county and the ice rink, but decided against it.
Now he wishes he’d gone through with it.
“This is a worst-case scenario, which justifies a moratorium in my mind,” he said.
Ament said he was under the impression that the city would hold off on enforcement until a meeting between the affected entities was held.
“This is a slap in the face to the City Council,” he said. “It’s against everything we’d discussed.”
Conflict between city staff and members of the City Council has existed in the past, Ament said, including last summer’s request by the Moscow Police Department to unionize.
He said city administration officials like Fife and Moscow City Supervisor Gary Riedner “need to go.”
“This is a strong mayoral system but I don’t see the mayor leading
Fife said he was merely acting within the parameters of his job.
“I do my job and I’ve done it for 10 years,” he said. “The staff supports the will of the mayor and the council. It’s not like its own entity. It’s an expression of the will of the people.”
Fife said he encourages people to talk to him about why he makes a decision.
“I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t get elected or make millions,” he said. “It doesn’t sound effective for city staff to not follow the advice of council members.”
Fife said he didn’t make the final decision on the cease-and-desist order until Wednesday, after he had gathered input from council members and other sources.
Chaney said the ice rink situation is a matter of enforcing the laws.
“I don’t view that as a conflict” between city staff and the City Council, she said.
She said there still are opportunities to save the ice rink. On Friday, Latah County commissioners appealed the city’s decision and Fife stayed the order.
“I don’t see any benefit to fanning flames. Enforcing the law is apart from that discussion,” she said. “It’s dangerous to create more controversy than actually exists in that circumstance. We want to come up with a workable solution that can benefit everyone.”
Riedner said city staff works to implement the policies of the City Council under the mayor’s guidance.
“It’s never been, in my perspective, that there is a power struggle between council and staff,” he said. “At no time has staff worked at odds with the council, but there have been situations where the council may not agree or have the same perspective on how a policy is to be implemented.”
Riedner said there always is room for improvement and he will do what he can to improve relationships if they are strained.
Councilman Bill Lambert said he isn’t aware of any power struggle.
“The city attorney has to do his job,” he said.
The county had to comply with the rules of the special use permit and the parking lot improvements needed to be made by the end of September, he said.
“If someone in violation of a permit hasn’t complied with what the permit says, it puts everyone in a peculiar situation,” Lambert said.
Councilman John Weber said the city has to set a precedent. If the ice rink is allowed to bend the rules, other entities will expect the same treatment.
“When something comes up it needs to be dealt with,” he said. “(Fife) had a huge choice and he had to make a decision.
“I am in favor of the ice rink, but I think ... we can work the issue out.”