Bock excluded from road board

Friday, September 1, 2006

Cape Girardeau County commissioners approved a questionnaire for potential members.

The Road and Bridge Advisory Board won't include a county commissioner as a formal member, the Cape Girardeau County Commission decided Thursday.

In a unanimous vote, the three commissioners approved a questionnaire for potential members of the advisory board and a document stating the mission, qualifications and membership.

The vote reaffirmed the structure of the board as originally proposed in July. Commissioner Larry Bock, who represents most of the county outside Cape Girardeau, wanted a nonvoting seat on the board for himself and future commissioners from his district.

"I am not opposed to you sitting on that board," Commissioner Jay Purcell said to Bock. "I am opposed to any commissioner sitting on that board."

The advisory board will have a member from each of the 10 townships in the county. There will also be an at-large member, making for 11 voting members. The county highway administrator will also have a nonvoting seat on the board.

So far 29 people have applied for seats on the board. The deadline for applications is Sept. 15.

No decisions have been made about how the commission will evaluate responses to the questionnaires or whether they will interview applicants in person before making selections.

During discussion of the board membership, Purcell and Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones expressed concerns that having a commissioner at every advisory board meeting could stifle its ability to consider new ideas.

The board was created during the run-up to the Aug. 8 election, when voters approved a half-cent county sales-tax increase for road work and law enforcement. Both Jones and Purcell have said they are unsure the tax, which passed by a 131-vote majority, would have been approved without the promise of an independent board.

Jones said occasional attendance by a commissioner wouldn't hurt, and could help, the board make decisions. But board members should also be able to meet without a commissioner present, he said.

"Let them have some meetings on their own and see what comes out," he said. "That is not walking a tightrope. That is just how I feel."

The push for a nonvoting seat on the advisory board wasn't an attempt to control the recommendations made by the board, Bock said. "I just wanted to be there in case they had a question for me. I didn't want to influence them. That was the farthest thing from my mind."

Initially, the board will discuss the county's criteria for choosing roads for paving, the rules for residents who want to apply to get their road on the list and whether the county should begin a program to control dust on county roads.

Later, the panel could also work on making selections of the roads that would be paved.

Any decisions made by the advisory board would have to be ratified by the county commission before they became policy.

The discussion Thursday of the board's membership included comments from one regular critic of the commission. David Seabaugh, who monitored commission action closely during the two-month campaign for the sales tax, told the commission they would break trust with voters if they changed the advisory board.

"If you do, it is going to have a negative impact," he said. "You worked hard to satisfy people enough to make it through the election."

Seabaugh said voters might react strongly if changes are made. "There ought to be a recall election if things are going to change after it was voted on."

He had some advice for the commissioners, who have been embroiled in accusations from Bock that Purcell and Jones have engaged in private meetings to discuss county business.

"If it becomes a big bickering match, we are going to start looking like Cairo," he said, referring to Cairo, Ill., where the city council and the mayor fight so much they can't take care of routine business.

"You need to iron out your differences, move along and start moving the county forward," Seabaugh said.

335-6611, extension 126

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