[JK: From Publius (aka Alexander Hamilton)]
Some Modest Recommendations on Restoring City Council Civility and Decorum
I note your recent reports on city council member indiscrete, truculent conduct and you, no doubt, are keenly awaiting my views on the matter.
I know from bitter experience what internecine conflicts can lead to. You will recall that the then long simmering political animus between Vice-President Burr and me did not end well and so I hasten to intervene in the current disputes before it is too late.
Even after all these many years I still have a deep affection for your fair city and fondly remember visiting my father-in-law’s flax mill in what you now know as Schuylerville. And, of course, Madame Jumel’s house still stands on Circular Street. Did you know that my son, Alexander, Jr., represented her when she divorced Burr.
I reference my connection to your beautiful community so you and your readers may know I speak with sincerity. But I digress. Back to the subject at hand.
Your commissioner of public safety and mayor seem to have caused quite a stir by entering into a high profile public dispute with the county district attorney regarding a gun fight on Broadway, a dispute that required the city council to hire outside legal counsel.
Through January the city has been billed $5,057.50 by the E. Stewart Jones firm to draft a Memorandum of Law in opposition to the District Attorney’s motion to restrain the mayor and commissioner.
Then there was the not too subtile suggestion by one council member that another was ‘slurring’ his speech during a public meeting, much other vitriol, and the filing a frivolous charge against a citizen for ‘disrupting’ a council meeting.
Then, of course, you reported on the “Case of the Risk Manager” and her notice of claim against the city. What delicious irony, the official charged with reducing and managing litigation against the city is now cast in the role of complainant in a potential law suit against the city.
And now we learn, quite by accident, of the Case of the Missing Assessor.
And through all of this, the mayor and commissioner have frequently and unilaterally assumed the role of city attorney in matters far and wide. And, in doing so, have affirmed De Britaine’s adage:
“Before you act, it’s Prudence soberly to consider; for after Action you cannot recede without dishonour: Take the Advice of some Prudent Friend; for he who
will be his own Counsellour, shall be sure to have a Fool for his Client.”
I see no happy ending to all this and so I humbly offer a few modest suggestions to restore council decorum and spare the community even further embarrassment, ridicule and additional legal costs.
Let us start with your charter, that flotsam washed up by the 1900 Galveston, Texas, flood. To avoid a repeat of the disruption that has plagued some recent ‘meetings’ I encourage an amendment to City Charter, Title 2.2: City Council and powers. The current language reads:
“Members of the public shall be scheduled to speak at Council meetings at times and in such manner as the Council shall establish. Time shall be allotted at every Council meeting for the public to speak.”
To avoid disruption and maintain decorum, I recommend that the current language be replaced with the following:
“Members of the city council shall be scheduled to speak and conduct public business at times and in such manner as the public in attendance shall establish. However, in no case shall any one commissioner be allotted time in excess of 15 minutes without public consent. The mayor shall be allowed up to 30 minutes.”
“Any commissioner or the mayor may yield any remaining allotted time to any other commissioner or the mayor. Council members who exceed their allotted time may be escorted from the meeting and placed in a penalty box until the meeting is adjourned.”
“Members of the public shall be invited to speak at council meetings following a lottery to be held prior to the council meeting. Each lottery ticket shall include a number and the time allotted to the bearer. Thus, for example, the bearer of ticket number 2 and labelled 5 minutes, will be the second public speaker and allowed up to 5 minutes to address the city council.
“Members of the public who exceed their designated time allowance shall also be escorted from the meeting and placed in the same penalty box reserved for council members.”
“Any council member or member of the public placed in the penalty box may be allowed to berate each other until their release.”
“The League of Women Voters shall administer these regulations and be the final arbiter of their application.”
“Any council member or member of the public placed in the penalty box shall be assessed a $25 fine for the first offense and $50 for eacf successive offense. Collected fines shall be placed in a dedicated account to pay for diplomatic services mandated by new Title 3. B.” (see below)”
This new Title 2.2 will eliminate disruption and promote an open, collegial environment while still allowing spleen venting and catharsis in the penalty box.
You must also examine Title 3, B: Intergovernmental Representation, to avoid costly conflicts with other governmental agencies such as the recent dispute with the county district attorney’s office.
Title 3, B. Intergovernmental Representation should be amended. The current language provides that:
“ The mayor shall represent the Council in negotiations or matters affecting agreements and contracts with neighboring local governmental jurisdictions, or the county, state, or federal governments.”
I suggest the following:
“The city council shall appoint an “diplomatic ambassador at large” to represent it in negotiations and dispute resolution with other governments. Under no circumstances shall the mayor or any commissioner initiate any dispute with any neighboring local governmental jurisdictions, or the county, state, or federal governments without first consulting with the ambassador as to the merits of the council members grievance.”
Finally, I reference and emphasize portions of my Federalist 8: The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States which I submit is equally applicable to intermunicipal matters.
“Our liberties would be a prey to the means of defending ourselves against the ambition and jealousy of each other. It deserves the most serious and mature consideration of every prudent and honest man of whatever party. If such men will make a firm and solemn pause, and meditate dispassionately on the importance of this interesting idea; if they will contemplate it in all its attitudes, and trace it to all its consequences, they will not hesitate to part with trivial objections …”
Your humble reader,
6 thoughts on “Publius Seeks Relief From City Council Scrums”
That was not a ‘frivolous charge’ for ‘disrupting a council meeting’. No one should be minimizing what happened during the evening of February 7. The summons issued by the Public Safety Department to the activist who took over that meeting was absolutely appropriate. Many people attending that meeting were made to feel unsafe. Citizens were denied their right to voice their opinions and the Council proceedings could not be conducted.
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I totally agree with Chris with one exception. We now appear to have anarchists coming to the council meeting not activists. They hate our police, our town and anyone who disagrees with them. Please review the past few meetings and tell me what possible value they add to our community. They use/abuse the public comment to put on a show for each other and it appears to be escalating. Needs to be stopped before someone gets hurt. As someone noted in one of the meetings, some of these people are mentally unstable and need professional help. Spring is here and it will get worse if not checked now.
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Something tells me last night’s meeting was not exactly the relief you were seeking….
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See my comment above and watch last night’s council meeting. (4/4)
We have real problems that this city council and deputies are not capable of dealing with.
Why do they all just sit there and continue to allow the chaos.
How much real city business is being compromised or neglected due to this insanity.
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Bob, I think in reality, the council is part of the chaos. Their own behavior is often not any better than those who are in the audience. They yell at each other and not just about a difference in policy. Ron Kim makes his disagreement personal with attacks and name-calling. It’s not just Ron as Minita was no better last night. She certainly didn’t miss a chance to throw a “nasty bomb”. I worked for a Mayor that could be caustic yet – and this is really hard for me to admit – Ron Kim makes her behaviors look mild. This is not only at the table. Ron sends foul ladened e-mails and screams at people – some who don’t even work for or with him.
We cannot expect decorum from a group of people who are clearly frustrated when the leadership provides no positive role model. I’m not defending the behavior of people screaming, getting too close, and using foul language. In fact, they are also doing themselves no favor. People stop listening to their message and only hear the abrasive presentation.
Get it together, council. Disagree. Stick to your beliefs BUT do it with decency and respect and then maybe you can expect the same from others.
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Why do the police allow this abuse of a public meeting and why would the Mayor not ask the police to remove these Bat-S… crazy people. Commissioner Montagnino was the only sane person there who pleaded with the Mayor to restore order. Time to clean house and elect a new council.
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