Dysfunctional Carroll Council living in Neverland

It's fortunate Carroll City Council members didn't go in together on a Powerball ticket purchase during this time of eye-popping payouts.

They may have won a $550 million prize.

Which would have sparked great concern among the members, who would no doubt have argued major points: Why do we have to drive to Des Moines to pick up the winning check? Who has to pay for the gas? What is the best way to get from Carroll to Des Moines - Highway 30 to the 144 diagonal or down to Coon Rapids and over for a longer stretch on 141?

The council would have deadlocked or just hemmed and hawed to the point of exhaustion with the result being that the lottery ticket would end up in a city hall file cabinet, where so many other potentially life-improving, game-changing documents go these days. They don't so much die there, but rather, like Gen. Douglas McArthur's soldier, they just fade away.

Your council has Burger King beat. Instead of just wanting to give it to you your way, they have their ambitions set much higher. The council wants to give you and everybody else who calls or emails their way, too. They want to keep taxes low, add more services, eliminate debt and keep fees exactly the same, as if we are living in a Neverland where no repairs to buildings are needed, inflation is imaginary and constituents pat them on the backs for everything they say and do. There are 8-year-olds in this town who require less approval to get through the day.

In a session that Councilman Jeff Scharfenkamp, one of the few voices of reason at the Farner Government Building these days, termed "insanity" the council Monday night could not move forward on a plan for new rates and categories of memberships at the Carroll Recreation Center.

At some point, facing operating losses, and wanting to see some improvement made to the facility and its programs, the city has to look at charging members more, making a great deal ($31.33 a month for a family) into a pretty good deal ($34 a month for an annual family rate).

"Nobody's ever going to call you and say, 'Hey, you did a great job with that rate increase,'" Scharfenkamp said.

Since 1980, the Rec Center has lost an average of $114,189 annually. The total operating losses at the Rec Center from fiscal year 1980-1981 to fiscal year 2011-2012 stand at $3.5 million.

Scharfenkamp said it's irresponsible not to work to close the gap with membership-rate increases proposed by the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Advisory Board, people who know and understand the Rec Center.

Councilman Eric Jensen looked at the proposed plan in much the same way, raising the point of competing interests. A lot of people who don't use the Rec Center are subsidizing it now, Jensen said.

"That's $200,000 that the city cannot put toward something else that other taxpayers in the community would like to see done," Jensen said.

Reasonable people can disagree on just where the rates should be set, but we have four members of the council who are taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach. Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann doesn't want to see the rates go up any more than 5 percent for one group. And she'd like to see single parents (mostly single moms if we are being honest) get huge breaks on rates, as much as 25 percent lower than what a traditional family, with a mom and a dad would pay. Call it a divorce bonus.

Councilman Tom Tait simply wants to wait for the just-hired Rec Center director, Florida high school football coach Ben Alford, to get here and develop a plan to boost the Rec Center. We hear Alford is packing a bottle of magic pills in Tampa Bay to cure all that ails the Rec Center. Hopefully, Alford doesn't lose them in a Kentucky Holiday Inn as he makes the drive north with his family.

Councilman Mike Eifler said he'd go along with a membership-and-rate plan as long as there is a six-month feature - not just the monthly one that would allow people to join for two or three or seven or nine months. If they just join for six months and not eight months Eifler wants to give them a break. Councilman Michael Kots seems to be against rate increases unless memberships are structured precisely according to his specifications.

"This is just nutty, guys," Scharfenkamp said.

The result: no rate increases and no new membership categories. And no hope of any plan coming back to the council soon. The parks board had proposed a new single senior rate and the single-mom deal - the latter not being quite as generous as Siemann wished.

The council also will have to consider what age qualifies one as a senior for membership purposes. Right now, it is 62 at the Rec Center and 65 at the Carroll Municipal Golf Course.

The council never got around to even discussing that Monday night.

What's most disturbing is that the council cannot handle a basic recommendation on basic services without posturing and grandstanding as if they were members of Congress looking to protect $180,000-a-year jobs (council members get $2,400).

How are they ever going to deal with larger issues? For years, at goal-setting sessions which appear to be largely futile, the council has listed development of a new library as its No. 1 priority. Scharfenkamp noted that the Rec Center hasn't been upgraded to any appreciable degree since it opened in 1977. A trails plan has lingered out there, somewhere, for years. And there is grant money available from many outside sources to make that happen. But nothing.

We used to be known as a community that could get big things done, largely because we kept destructive instincts at bay. We didn't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We supported other people's ideas and projects even if they weren't exactly what we would do were the decisions left to us alone.

The council missed a big, obvious opportunity on Monday night. Councilpeople should have voted to create a "dysfunctional organization" membership category at the Rec Center.

They could have joined together.

And then fought over who gets the lockers closest to the showers.