There was no love coming from the City Council on Valentines Day ’06. Here is the document (dead link now) limiting your access to locally elected officials. The normally accepted procedure was to have 5 minutes at the beginning and end of each meeting for “Public Invited To Be Heard”. As an occasional speaker, it took time to whittle it down to fit that time frame in some meaningful way. Then somewhere along the line they decided to cut that time. My personal opinion is that this came about from all the Walmart protesters that would go one after another for quite some time, usually repeating each other, and may have pushed the limits of what the councilmember’s would tolerate. I waited for it seemed about 30 speakers, all about Walmart, just to get my airport issue addressed. I could’ve gone between them but didn’t want my point lost in a subject that the city had already made their mind up about.
So down came the hammer. The first step was a 5 minute limit on the first 12 speakers, but #13 on only had 3 minutes, so much for planning out your comments to fit the time allowed. Now you get 3 minutes, period, 1st, 10th, 20th, doesn’t matter. In the old days you didn’t have to put your name on the sign-up sheet, now if you don’t you don’t get your turn until the end of the meeting (regular session only, study session there is no public invited to be heard at the end). Here’s my problem with this: I usually did not put my name on the list for one reason, if someone else already spoke to my issue, I didn’t waste councils time and repeat them. If no one else did, then I’d raise my hand and speak, usually last. But now, if the only way I or anyone can be heard is to sign up, then we all will and possibly waste more of council’s time that could’ve been saved by avoiding duplication.
The bone thrown out by council was this 30 minute chitchat with a couple members of council before the session. This was to be done on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month. You have to sign up for it, and the member may spend 1 minute listening to you, or 29 minutes listening to someone else, in no order and at the discretion of the council member. Recently they cancelled a meeting, cutting these 30 minute get-togethers down to ONCE in March. They point to the possibility of contacting members via phone or email, I’ve done that plenty in the past, results are spotty. Try it for yourself.
I usually agree with Mayor Pirnack on most issues, but this is one I’ve never agreed with. One of her main goals was more public involvement in city issues, something I took to heart, hence this blog/site, etc etc. But this change in procedures (technically known as R-2006-12) goes totally against the Mayor’s stated goal, which I believe is a worthy goal.
I share that goal with my encouraging people to get involved and follow what goes on in their community. Instead of trying to have all the answers, I’d rather nudge you to ask more questions. You’re paying for it in one form or another, get your moneys worth.
UPDATE: According to the Times-Call “City Talk” section, City Council members face-to-face meetings are now only on the fourth Tuesday of every month. The above resolution still says “twice a month”. Watch for it to totally disappear.