A Gering City Council agenda item to discuss and approve the city’s sustainability statement didn’t even get to the discussion stage, as council members for and against weren’t about to compromise.
Written several years ago, the original sustainability plan outlined steps a community could make to assure future generations would be able to enjoy the same lifestyle as previous generations.
Earlier this year, Gering Mayor Ed Mayo condensed the plan down to a single-page statement that in no way obligates the city to its suggestions. It merely outlines a philosophy the city should have regarding business friendliness, energy conservation, recycling, green space and other areas.
In earlier discussions on the plan, council member Julie Morrison said a formal statement wasn’t needed, as it was mostly common sense, such as conserving energy and recycling whenever possible.
Council member Jill McFarland said that while the plan was common sense, the city should have a tangible plan it could point to when new businesses ask about its sustainability plan. McFarland said the issue is becoming more important for cities of all sizes around the nation.
Two members were absent from the May 9 council meeting when approval of the sustainability statement was on the agenda and the vote was a 3-3 tie. Under state law, because not all members were present, the mayor could not break the tie.
At Monday’s meeting, McFarland said because the previous meeting produced a “non-vote,” she wanted to revisit the plan.
“I know some members think this is just common sense, but I wish it were that easy,” McFarland said. “Why is the library the only facility that’s recycling plastic if the plan was common sense?”
She added the statement had been rewritten several times and she’s tried to get it to a place where members are comfortable with it.
McFarland made a motion to vote on approval of the statement, but Morrison objected to it even being considered, saying the discussion had gone on long enough.
According to council procedure, the motion then became whether the council should consider the sustainability statement at all, not whether to approve or reject.
In recent meetings, Mayor Mayo has added an intermediate step into the voting process. After the vote is called, he asks whether everyone has voted before the vote is recorded. But when the Monday vote was tallied with results on the board, Morrison and Joyce Hillman-Kortum had not yet voted.
When City Clerk Kerri Schnase-Berge read the vote, she asked Morrison if she was abstaining. Morrison, as well as Hillman-Kortum, then cast "no" votes. Manuel Escamilla and Don Christensen had voted against the measure before the vote was called.
Joining McFarland in voting to advance the motion were council members Larry Gibbs and Rebecca Shields. Council member Dan Smith, who had voted against consideration of the statement two weeks ago, was absent.
Mayo then called a five-minute recess to review the vote. It was determined that without a two-thirds majority vote, the statement, and whether to approve or reject it, wouldn’t be considered at all.
“I’m getting really tired of people voting after the vote is recorded,” McFarland said. “It’s a council member’s responsibility to come to meetings prepared and pay attention to the vote. That’s not happening with us right now.”
According to McFarland, the vote was no longer about the sustainability statement at all. For some council members, it had become an issue they were tired of hearing about and just wanted to go away.
“I’m really sorry we’ve come to this point,” she told the council. “It’s important to continue working with staff because this is the future based on limited resources and the sustainability of our quality of life. I disagree with so many things some of you have said. From what I hear from the public, they’re amazed we can’t get this passed.”
McFarland said she tried to bring planning for the future into the council environment, but it just wasn’t happening. Consequently, she withdrew her motion to consider the sustainability statement.
McFarland did say she would second a motion to consider the sustainability statement if another council member would introduce it. No one did.
“The public knows where I stand on this,” she said. “I want to assure a bright and vibrant future for our community. But by the way these people are voting, it’s pretty clear to the public we don’t agree.”