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Order important when council meets

It has been a long time since this issue was last addressed, but, sadly, it appears that a reminder is in order: Let’s make sure we are using proper decorum at Steubenville City Council meetings.

While the problem has been ongoing for many months now, it came to a head during last week’s meeting, when Mayor Jerry Barilla decided it was necessary to step down from his seat and address members of council and the others in attendance about the way they have been behaving during meetings.

Members of council seem to have had a difficult time engaging in discussion about city issues. From questions about how recreation money is spent, to the need for trash receptacles, to how best to address issues with the city’s water and sewer systems, to time spent discussing the fate of the bridge in Beatty Park, too much time has been spent arguing about the smallest of details, with some members of council, as Barilla explained, thinking that their jobs are to be administrators and not legislators.

There are legitimate issues in each of six wards that residents are asking to be addressed. As always, though, the reality is that money and staffing issues will dictate just what the city is able to accomplish. That’s why members of council need to listen to the recommendations issued by heads of the city’s various departments — they all are qualified and have proven themselves more than capable of figuring out how to get the most out of their limited budgets and staffs.

This is not to say that members of council should not fight for their constituents. Each has been selected by residents of his or her ward to do just that.

Every city resident deserves the same access to police and fire protection, to clean drinking water and efficient sewer and sanitation systems and to clean and well-maintained parks, for instance, and it’s up to council to provide department heads with the money, material and staffing to do that.

There are other needs as well, and no one should be so naive to think that some of the questions asked by residents of the 6th Ward will be the same as concerns expressed by residents of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wards.

That’s why the voters in each section of the community have the chance to select who will represent their area — and why those seats come up for election every four years. If a person is perceived to be doing a good job for his or her constituents, those constituents can vote to re-elect them.

Remember that only two members of council — the mayor and councilperson at large — have to face all of the city’s voters.

Residents also should continue to have the chance to address council — it’s part of the accountability public officials have to their constituents. That does not give anyone the right to turn those opportunities into shouting matches that no one can win and cause what could be a valid point to be lost, deliberately spread false information or interrupt a meeting with unsolicited commentary.

Members of council are facing some big choices in the coming weeks, including how best to allocate the remainder of the city’s COVID-relief dollars. Every member of council has ideas on how at least a part of that money can be used for a project in her or his ward.

Plus, the reality is that there are issues with the water and sewer systems that need to addressed now — city residents need to remember only back to January 2018, when the downtown area was left without water for several days after a failure in the system.

Big-ticket items include a pulsator at the water treatment plant, which is desperately needed; $1 million in street repairs; and thousands of dollars needed to cover the demolition of dilapidated structures.

Those federal funds represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city — but they are not unlimited and must be spent in a way that will benefit the greatest number of city residents not just now, but well into the future.

No doubt those decisions will be difficult, and they can only be made after serious discussions are held. There certainly will be disagreements — and that’s actually the way the system is set up to work — but being disrespectful of others and their ideas, name-calling and innuendo will do nothing to move the process forward.

Give-and-take will be important — even though we seldom see it on the national level, politics should be a lot of things, including the art of compromise.

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