Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Public Is All Ears Over New Seating

Tonight's agenda session may feature a new seating system in City Hall Library that has the City Council literally facing the public.

The council members formerly sat around a long table, with the city administrator at the head, flanked by the city clerk and corporation counsel. The public sat in chairs around the perimeter of the room.

Last month, after waiting for a lengthy closed session to conclude, the public entered the library to find the council table backed up against the east wall in front of the Jonas Lie mural. A small table for visitors faced the council, with a table for the mayor, city administrator and corporation counsel to the north and one for the city clerk and assistant to the south. Chairs for the public (seemingly fewer than before) ranged mainly around the west wall, where aging air conditioners made enough noise to make hearing difficult.

Several developers were on hand to make presentations, but their backs were to the public and their displays faced the council. Previously, presenters came to the end of the long table and displays could be seen by both the council and the majority of the public.

The arrangement is said to be an idea of the late City Council President Ray Blanco, whose goal was to have the council meetings televised. Blanco made other innovations since becoming president on Jan. 1. He won council approval to change the traditional Monday meeting schedule and also developed a 28-page "Rules of Order" guide for the council. Midway through the year, green-shaded brass lamps appeared in front of each council member in another innovation.

Blanco died on July 28 and did not see the new seating arrangement's debut on Aug. 21. It will be up to his colleagues to see whether it really works.

"The major problem in the City Hall Library has always been the lack of an adequate sound system," resident Dottie Gutenkauf said. "Until that is dealt with, the public won't be able to hear what is being said no matter what the seating arrangements are."

Gutenkauf said Blanco acknowledged that problem.

A frequent attendee at meetings in City Hall Library, Gutenkauf said it is "almost impossible" to hear what is going on not only at council meetings, but also at Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings held there.

Gutenkauf said public officials need to keep in mind that discussions and proceeedings at a public meeting are supposed to be audible to the public.

"If they're not, it feeds a cartain kind of paranoia the community doesn't need," she said.

"If you have a mike, use it! If you don't, speak up!" she said.

Gutenkauf said getting a proper sound system in City Hall Library should be a priority.

The new system usurps Plaintalker's favorite seat - on the east side, away from the "white noise" that emanates from the air conditioners and obscures the human voice. Anybody got an ear trumpet?

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home