Commentary on Proposed Meeting Changes
Dr. Yood has been an observer of city government for many decades and has shared his opinions in letters to the editor of the Courier News and now on his blog. He is a wise elder who deserves respect, not dismissal.
Now for the innovation: Taking the council meetings on the road is supposed to bring more citizens out to see their elected representatives in action. Councilman Rashid Burney explained it Monday, and on Wednesday said a further hope is that parents will bring children to the meetings and that children will express their views as well.
Another part of the proposal is to limit meetings to one agenda session and one regular meeting per month. Burney said the suggested agenda sessions will take place at schools, namely Cook, Clinton, Washington and Emerson. It will only be one meeting per quarter, he said.
But that will then be one-third of the agenda sessions, where many discussions and presentations take place. On the other hand, the council wants to have more committee meetings on such topics as public safety. These meetings would not be subject to the Open Public Meetings Act, if only a three-member committee meets, but the public will be welcome to come and observe.
First question: How will the general public, not just the hardy band of regulars, find out the dates and locations of meetings not held in the current two official locations? The city web site is still lacking after three years. Will it become a font of information in 2009?
Second question: How soon will this plan land on the great pile of failed innovations that the late Councilman Ray Blanco advocated in 2006? The Monday-Wednesday meeting schedule drove away many citizens. At last inquiry, not a single council committee had filed written reports – ever. And only a few of five oversight committees and 10 liaisons have ever reported back to the full council.
The Civic Responsibility Act and the Hispanic Affairs Commission have not been fulfilled and two new Youth Commissions are fallow. Blanco wanted three “working conferences” each year on topics of public interest, but there haven’t been any since 2006. Blanco’s untimely death in 2006 robbed the city of his great drive and energy and the like has not been seen since.
Maybe this new proposal is an attempt to revitalize the council’s role, but what is the governing body's core mission? To make laws, pass the budget and serve constituents. So it has been for 140 years. Are citizens now so passive that they will only go to a council meeting if the council meeting comes to them?
As far as children taking part, the council only allows one-half hour for public comment and each speaker gets five minutes. And that’s at the end of the agenda session. Let’s see, do kids really want to sit through discussions of liquor licenses or road repair while waiting their turn to speak? The school board now has student performances at the beginning of business meetings and then all the families leave before the board gets down to business- so much for public involvement.
This proposal needs more discussion, but judging by the tone Monday, it is a done deal worked out somewhere offstage. If the council wants to leave the seat of government to play musical chairs, four votes in January will make it happen. Time will tell whether it makes any sense.