Our View: City ordinance procedure deserves reviewIf not for some outspoken business owners last week, the city of Woodbury could very well have ended up with two new ordinances without so much as a discussion.
If not for some outspoken business owners last week, the city of Woodbury could very well have ended up with two new ordinances without so much as a discussion.
As it stands, the city got one – the so-called “social host” ordinance, which holds parents accountable for underage drinking at their homes.
Woodbury City Council members ended up tabling its decision on a license and fee requirement for massage therapy businesses. The proposed ordinance would require all massage businesses – as well as individual masseuses – to purchase licenses from the city in order to operate. Woodbury police say it’s part of an effort to ease investigations at troublesome massage parlors, at least two of which have seen prostitution-related arrests in the past two years. Proponents also see the regulation as a way to squeeze out the very few shady characters from an otherwise squeaky-clean industry.
We’re not yet ready to say whether the proposal is worth supporting – and we’re glad City Council members took a similar position.
The ordinance was placed on what’s known as the consent agenda for the Aug. 10 meeting. The consent agenda – for those unfamiliar with local government meeting procedure – is comprised of multiple items that can be passed en masse. Consent agenda items generally are not controversial. If they are, they usually have been vetted through the public process and come as no surprise.
Had representatives from the local massage industry not stepped forward and asked for the massage-ordinance proposal to be pulled from the consent agenda, it might have received the rubber stamp without so much as a peep.
As far as we know, there was no prior public discussion on the massage proposal during any lead-up to Wednesday’s meeting. It just ended up on the consent agenda.
Numerous businesses could have been subject to new fees and police investigations without being any the wiser, due to a process City Administrator Clint Gridley admits leaves plenty of latitude.
“There’s no science to the process,” he told the Bulletin last week.
Gridley said items end up on the consent agenda on a “judgment by judgment basis.” In this case, the thought was that the massage ordinance was merely boilerplate, he said.
“We didn’t see the amount of interest coming with massage therapy,” Gridley said, comparing it to the social host ordinance, which received no feedback from the council or the public.
As a city governed by Minnesota statute and not its own charter, Woodbury is under no obligation to hold multiple readings for ordinance passage, though it is allowed to mold its own procedures and policies regarding ordinance adoption.
We urge the city to review those policies and procedures to ensure it always has the public’s best interest at heart.
Even the most well meaning ordinances — such as those out to protect the public — deserve every opportunity for public discourse before they are up for final approval.
Many ordinances end up applying to all of us, so why shouldn’t all of us get a chance to have our say — or at least know what’s coming?