GREENFIELD — A sophomore member of the Greenfield City Council was selected president of the council on Wednesday, and one of his first orders of business will be to encourage more sharing of ideas in city government.
John Patton was elected president in a 5-2 vote. He took office last year after upsetting longtime incumbent Kelly McClarnon in the 2011 election.
He says he already has ideas on how to make council meetings more active and bring about new ideas in local government.
“Communities in other parts of the metro area are not standing still, and we are,” said Patton.
Patton, a retired advertising executive, vowed in his 2011 campaign to focus on economic development. Patton recently stepped down from the steering committee of the Greenfield Area Tea Party to spend more time in city politics; he’s also the publicity director for the Hancock County Republican Party.
Patton said he wants to communicate more with the Hancock Economic Development Council to see how he can help bring more development to the area. In 2012, the city council approved tax abatements for three companies, and Patton said he wants to help the county continue to move forward with job growth.
Patton campaigned to be city council president, calling other members before Wednesday’s meeting to ask for support. Mitch Pendlum was president in 2012 and nominated Patton for the role.
Pendlum said after the meeting that it’s good for the leadership position to alternate. He said Patton will be able to devote a lot of time and energy to the job.
Other than economic development incentives, 2012 was a fairly quiet year for city government. The city’s take-home vehicle policy was the only hot-button issue. Patton, Pendlum and Councilman Greg Carwein were on a committee to look into changing who can use a city vehicle and where it can be driven.
Ultimately, the council decided not to change the policy.
Otherwise, city council meetings often only lasted five minutes. While the council drew new district lines, extended city water to Windswept Road and approved a new crosswalk on U.S. 40, most of the business was shifting money within city budgets, which elected officials rarely discussed.
The first meeting of 2013 Wednesday was much the same. The group met for about 10 minutes and approved an ordinance that shifts local-option income tax money to police and fire pensions. It’s a move Mayor Dick Pasco and Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese said had to be done because state law now requires cities to chip in to pension funds every pay period, as opposed to every quarter. Breese said it was a one-time bookkeeping change due to how frequently money must be put into pension funds.
Patton said he’d like city council meetings to have more debate and a greater flow of ideas.
He said constituents have contacted him in the last year with concerns, and he’d like concerns from the public to be brought forward in open dialogue. An example was when a local resident approached Patton last year about eliminating parking spots in front of the Hancock County Veterans Memorial. Ultimately, council members debated the idea and decided to eliminate two spaces.
This year, Patton said he’d like to see the city conduct traffic studies. He has received several calls from local residents concerned about traffic congestion on State Street and speeding problems around Greenfield-Central High School. He’d like the city to purchase equipment that could monitor traffic flow, which would alert officials to problems throughout the city.
Pasco said he’d also like to see more meaningful city council meetings.
“Sometimes I walk out of there no longer than they last, I feel guilty like we haven’t done our job,” Pasco said. “But we do whatever is on the agenda.”
Pasco said one problem is a lack of communication. City council members often don’t talk to each other outside of meetings, and some rarely speak to him at all.
“There’s room for improvement and working together,” Pasco said. “I would like to see more communication between each other and with me. Some I talk to on a regular basis, and others I talk to (only) before and after the meetings.”
Patton said he, too, would like to see better communication. He hopes to meet regularly with Pasco and city department heads.
Patton said he was disappointed the Potts Ditch flooding problem was not addressed in 2012. A study was presented to the council in July, but there was no discussion the rest of the year on how to address the problem. That, he said, will likely be discussed this year.
Other items that could come before the group is a citywide spay and neuter law. Greenfield-Hancock County Animal Management officials have been drafting an ordinance.
Setting the city’s annual budget is also a task of the city council. Patton said the one-night budget discussion in 2012 went smoothly, but in retrospect he wishes there had been more discussion. One of the main changes in the budget was a cut to funding to the Greenfield-Central broadcasting program; the city council decided to keep cable franchise fees for its own technology needs.
“I think all of us had a point of view and we all ran for city council because we all had things we wanted to do and contribute,” Patton said. “In retrospect, I would probably ask more questions and been a little more active in the budget process if I had to do it all over again.”
Councilmen Greg Carwein and Kerry Grass did not vote in favor of Patton’s nomination. Carwein had asked about nominating someone else, but that was only after the group voted to close nominations. Neither of them could be reached for further comment Thursday.
Pasco said he wishes the vote had been unanimous. He said if there is a schism among members of the council, the 5-2 vote only widened it. He hopes the group can work together in 2013 and said Patton is always one to do his homework and come prepared for meetings.
Patton said he can work with anyone on the council. And because he’s retired, he feels as if he has the time to devote to the job.