Letter to the Editor

Council rules impede citizen input

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter was written prior to Tuesday's meeting, in which proposed changes to Council rules of order were modified. For details of that meeting, click here

To the editor:

I am appalled at the proposed ordinance establishing rules of order and procedure concerning public comments and getting on the agenda of the City Council meetings.

The ordinance sets a deadline for agenda items at 5 p.m. the Friday 10 days preceding each City Council meeting. However, a copy of the agenda will not be made available to the public until the Wednesday prior to the Council meeting which is less than 10 days from the required filing date.

The ordinance adopted last January requiring citizens to take certain steps before addressing the Council is preposterous. Citizens must first meet with their representative, then go to the proper committee, and if their issue is still not resolved, the mayor shall have complete discretion regarding whether there shall be a public comment period during any meeting and if permitted to make a comment, the mayor decides if the speaker will be allowed to speak the maximum 5 minutes allocated per person without a vote from the Council members present for an extension of time granted. Furthermore, even after following the procedures outlined, citizens are not guaranteed that they will be permitted to be placed on the agenda because the mayor shall have "sole discretion" in determining whether a citizen "will" be placed on the agenda for public comment. In addition, a person wishing to address the Council during any Council meeting must request "in writting" to the mayor to be placed on the agenda. This poses a barrier to those citizens who are illiterate or have a low literacy level.

The ordinance for public comment does not give a time frame for the Council member nor the committee in addressing issues presented to them by the public, which means that a citizen's concerns may be "put off" indefinitely. This measure leaves no room for situations requiring immediate attention, and in some instances, could actually result in the Council passing adverse legislation before the citizens are permitted to voice their concerns. To give the mayor the "sole power" to determine whether the public is permitted to speak appears to be a form of autocratic government.

Many cities hold town hall meetings where the citizens have an opportunity to voice their concerns without their having to "jump through hoops" before they can speak. During their campaign for election, this same Council was willing to talk to the people and hear what they had to say, but now that they are in office, efforts to discourage the people (who the Council represents) are being made by silencing or inhibiting their chances to publicly voice their opinions in matters that relate to them.

Surely the public has questions about how the city incurred a $3.1 million tax debt among other issues that the Council has not given a satisfactory answer or accountability as to how an error of this proportion occurred. Yet, the Council is proposing a millennium tax to be imposed on the public to satisfy this debt. How can a debt of this proportion have been an oversight or so badly misappropriated when these taxes have been around for almost 100 years and is not new to the administration. No one seems interested in finding out how this error occurred or to give account for this debt. The Council's answer is to pass the responsibility for paying this debt on to the public who is already overburdened by taxes and ever-increasing fees.

Lillie Jones Luca