A quorum of the Flagstaff City Council was not comfortable with an ad hoc panel on plastic bags created by interim City Manager Jeff Meilbeck Tuesday evening but moved forward with the idea anyway.
Two councilmembers, Jeff Oravits and Karla Brewster, and Mayor Jerry Nabours were excused from the 6 p.m. portion of the meeting to attend an event in Flagstaff with Gov. Doug Ducey. That left Vice Mayor Celia Barotz and Councilmembers Scott Overton, Coral Evans and Eva Putzova at the dais when the discussion started.
The committee suggested by Meilbeck would include seven members: Kathy Flaccus, Madison Ledgerwood, Moran Henn from Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, Rick Resnick, Rob Wilson and Stuart McDaniel, the government affairs director for the Chamber.
The group would be led by an outside facilitator and meet three times in March. It would then offer a recommendation to the City Manager’s Office, he said. Meilbeck would then present the committee’s recommendation along with the one from the Sustainability Commission and recommendations from city staff to Council in May.
The commission recommended a ban on plastic grocery bags.
“The goal of the effort is to fully explore this topic so the Council can make an informed decision,” he said. “What I want to be clear on is that nothing about this focus group minimizes the great work of the Sustainability Commission.”
Putzova said while she appreciated Meilbeck’s intention, she was concerned about the impression the public and the Sustainability Commission might have of the ad hoc committee. She didn’t want the public to think that Council was trying to get around or throw out the Sustainability Commission’s recommendation because they didn’t like it.
“If we go this route what does that mean for how we conduct business in other cases,” she asked. “I’m not sure that it’s a good precedent. I can see the value of it, but I’m not sure it’s a good precedent to go forward. Or what solution they can propose that staff cannot propose.”
“I just want to make sure that that citizens committee understands that we value the work they did and that we are not trying to get another group to come up with a different recommendation because we didn’t like the first one we got,” she said. “I think that defiantly we need to get input from all different people.”
Meilbeck said he understood their concerns and asked the Sustainability Commission’s opinion on the ad hoc committee and received its support.
Evans suggested adding a member from the Sustainability Commission to the ad hoc committee to provide some historical background to the discussion. She also asked if the committee’s meetings would be open to the public.
Meilbeck explained that the committee was really designed to give him advice on the issue but the public would be welcome to attend the meetings.
City Attorney Michelle D’Andrea reminded Council that the ad hoc committee was not appointed by Council and therefore was not subject to the same Open Meeting laws.
Arizona Open Meeting laws require that Council-appointed commissions and committees, such as the Flagstaff Planning and Zoning Commission, open their meetings to the public. Because the plastic bag ad hoc committee would be appointed by the city manager, it would not be required to be open to the public.
Overton said he was OK with having an ad hoc committee look at the issue.
“I think it’s a challenging topic just based on the testimony alone. I don’t know if some of the solutions were viable that were brought forward by the public,” he said. “I welcome the discussion of this focus group to keep working the problem. I don’t think we’re at a point where we as a Council can even make a decision on one solid solution and then have a community that wants to buy in on it with a change in behavior policy, a significant one for some people.”
Barotz had concerns about the composition of the group. She wanted to make sure that it provided a balanced group of viewpoints.
“It’s really important because the credibility of whatever solution comes forward will be questioned if we’re not transparent,” she said. “The reason I bring this up is because we’ve had other processes where I have felt that the group wasn’t really representative of the community.”
She wanted people who were a part of this ad hoc committee to be proud of their work.
Meilbeck said he chose the different members based on the comments they made during Council’s January meeting. He was very impressed by some of their arguments and approached them after the meeting to ask if they would volunteer for the committee.
“I wasn’t looking so much for affiliations. That wasn’t my intent,” he said.
Evans said she would have preferred not to have an ad hoc committee and to kick the issue back to the Sustainability Committee instead, but people had already been asked to be part of the ad hoc committee. It might be too late to pull back on that now, she said.
Barotz and Putzova agreed. Council did not vote on the issue but agreed to let the ad hoc committee idea move forward.
Note: This story was changed the original posted version to clarify the event attended by the mayor and two councilmembers.