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Letter: Public process urged to fill council opening

To the editor,

As a proud resident of Hastings and member of the Hastings Planning Commission, I would like to encourage the Hastings City Council to take public applications for the open council seat being vacated by Council Member Mike Slavik.

While I understand Mayor Hicks has nominated a former council member, Ed Riveness, to fill the seat for two years without allowing the public to apply, I believe this action sends the wrong message to the citizens of Hastings.

Please consider the following:

· The appointment of a Hastings City Council member should require no less of a process than appointing city commission members. They are required to apply for their positions, and are interviewed by council members and city staff before being seated. Why not do the same for a council seat that carries so much responsibility?

• The appearance to some residents is that appointing a former longtime council member without taking applications is an "inside deal" by the council with a colleague. The public may perceive that such an appointee cannot be fully independent and able to vote his own conscience.

• Following appointment, the new council member will serve for two years (until January 2015) - a full half of Council Member Slavik's four-year term. This seems a bit long to fill the seat with a "caretaker" council member without first going through a public process.

• The Hastings City Charter is ambiguous and calls for an appointment when there's a council opening, but does not say how this is to be accomplished. The recent decision to appoint a new member without taking applications is only one interpretation of the charter.

• A public application process would encourage people with fresh ideas, new perspectives and experience to apply and serve their fellow residents. Why wouldn't we want Hastings to benefit from this process?

• A quick Internet search shows how common an open council application process is in other cities nationally. To name just a few: West St. Paul; Lincoln, Nebraska; Derby, Kansas, Menifee, California, Oakley, Utah; and Fife, Washington all have council openings and are taking applications.

To be clear, I'm not criticizing the record or capabilities of Ed Riveness, who served on the Hastings City Council from 1986-2008. If he would like to come out of retirement and return to the council, he should be asked to apply, along with other interested parties. It only seems fair.

Hastings is a great city. Let's take a stand for even more public involvement in our government by allowing residents to apply for the opening on our city council.

Tom Bullington