Cape Girardeau City Council approves green board proposal after modification

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

After deleting what Mayor Jay Knudtson called "caustic, nasty, political language," the Cape Girardeau City Council voted 6-to-1 to approve an ordinance to create the "Girardeau Goes Green Advisory Board."

City councilwoman Debra Tracy cast the dissenting vote after unsuccessfully appealing to other council members to retain a single line indicating the advisory board's duties would include suggesting how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The unusual split vote was just one of a series of disagreements, and among the least contentious. One issue brought an extra police officer to the meeting, though no arrests were made.

Knudtson asked biologist Alan Journet, who worked for more than a year on the ordinance, if dropping the line would cause him to withdraw from being considered for the board.

Journet, founder of the Southeast Missouri Climate Protection Initiative and a Southeast Missouri State University professor, said he wasn't sure.

Two council members, John Voss and Marcia Ritter, had voted against the ordinance during its first reading. Voss said he'd heard from residents and business owners worried that the advisory board would increase regulations.

Tracy, who admitted she wasn't entirely comfortable with the language, said it was important to retain it as a matter of transparency.

Voss questioned some of the language, which he called "politically charged" and "troubling" in part because "it became clear they are laser-focused on carbon dioxide-emission reduction."

Because of that, he said, he could not vote for the measure.

Councilwoman Loretta Schneider agreed with Voss.

"As far as the greenhouse gases, this certainly isn't the time for our city to get as involved in something that we're going to really regret," she said.

Emissions issue

Councilman Charlie Herbst said some small business owners had expressed concern about being regulated by the advisory board.

Councilwoman Debra Tracy said, "whether or not I would agree with them on every point is not what I was looking for," she said.

But Voss also said he thought if carbon dioxide emissions were struck then some potential board members would not want to participate.

"As we have explained, the reason we got into this whole issue is we are very concerned about climate change. Some people think this is a political issue. We do not," Alan Journet said.

Schneider suggested tabling the issue, but Knudtson said that was the wrong approach. Though the vote would not be unanimous, he said, it was "as close to a consensus as we can get. I think what this amendment is saying is that, under these conditions, we'll support an advisory board."

Kathleen Conway, another Southeast Missouri State University professor who worked on the ordinance and a cofounder of the climate protection initiative, shook her head slightly.

After the vote, Voss thanked Journet, adding that the new ordinance "may not represent exactly what you'd hoped for."

Councilman Mark Lanzotti reminded those in the audience and those watching the meeting on television that applications to serve on city boards were available on the city's website,

Historic preservation

Mike Sheehan, a one-time member of the city's Historic Preservation Commission and an activist in trying to form the city's first residential historic district, asked the council for help in preserving his neighborhood even as a second round of petitions were being circulated on his and nearby streets.

He said parking spillover from the university continued to plague West End Boulevard and nearby streets and, worse, at least one home that had been converted from apartments back to a single-family home was reverting to apartments "and another one is on the way."

He asked if the city could offer any protection between now and when the historic district is finalized. Knudtson suggested he ask the city's parking advisory board for some help. Interim city manager Ken Eftink said the historic district rules would govern exterior design issues, not necessarily prevent property owners from renting homes as apartments. Sheehan said he has scheduled a 2:15 p.m. Friday meeting with city planning officials to discuss the matter further.

Residents complain

While still in the council's public hearing section, city officials heard from at least four residents of Ranney Avenue, who complained about their neighbor, Don Howard.

Nikki and Eric Russell said they and others felt harassed by Howard's constant video and audio recording of activities on the street, including in backyards.

"He can hear you when you're just talking normally," Nikki Russell said. "I have a right to privacy."

Corrine White said she was getting frequent and sometimes daily police visits because of Howard.

"The only ticket I've got in when my dog ran out the house and didn't have a leash on it. His camera is pointed at my house," she said. "I've been videotaping him, too."

She said he home has been burglarized twice but Howard didn't call police, but "if I have a barbecue, he calls the police."

Knudtson asked if the neighbors had talked to Howard, and White said when she confronted him, he called the police to report her for disturbing the peace.

Cape Girardeau Police Capt. Roger Fields confirmed that Howard has frequently called the police on his neighbors "for a lot of mundane things" and does make recordings but "there's nothing he's doing that's illegal."

Knudtson said the police had to act as referees and suggested the best the residents could do is call police when they felt it was appropriate.

Knudtson cautioned those at the meeting to try to view their neighbor in a different light.

"Mr. Howard has his good points. You have seen his bad points." Knudtson said. "I'll promise you he's watching on TV right now. Maybe he's gotten to know you a little better."

Then Howard entered the room, along with one of his children. Knudtson cautioned Howard to remain calm. Howard complained that some children had used slingshots to break his windows and some adult neighbors had beaten up another man over a parking incident.

"This really pissed me off," he said. "These are people who assaulted that man should have been put in jail. ... For y'all's information, I own my house. They rent. This goes back to what I said before: We're going to have to make these landlords more responsible for who they rent out to."

He said not everyone on his street was causing trouble.

As Knudtson tried to mediate, Howard and Nikki Russell began arguing directly. Knudtson called them to order, and threatened to have Howard removed from the meeting.

After they calmed down, Fields accompanied the neighbors out of the room.

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