Public speaking has been harmed by the city council which plans on reducing speaking to five minutes on all new ordinances; the final hearing for this is August 20th. The city’s ordinances are complicated and some ordinances are the size of non-fiction books so any reduction in time is a serious problem. Issues on zoning, tax abatements, bonding, and perhaps even the budget would be affected by this change.
Citizens play a vital role in helping the city council understand why certain laws should or should not happen. As an example, I helped the city saved money when the city brought the present Board of Education building on Claremont Avenue. The seller wanted $12 million but the price came down after I convinced the then city council of the exorbitant price. The city renegotiated and I saved taxpayers more than $3 million. I could not accomplish this if I had a five minute time limit. But I am not the only citizen to do this, the late Joe Duffy, spoke on ordinances and saved millions for the city and even recently, John Seborowski, saved the city money on parking lease deals. Explaining vital information sometimes takes more than five minutes.
Unfortunately, people who run for office have a limited history of attending meetings prior to election and their knowledge is limited to what the administration or developers tell them. Citizens fill in that gap, they are vital to the democratic process.
I do agree the meetings are too long, but more items are placed on the agenda including last minute items, but it is better to limit what is on the agenda to make sure the council understands what they are voting on. As an example, during the KRE abatement in Journal Square, Councilwoman Coleman, said in frustration, “I don’t know what I am voting on.” I admire her honesty; the agenda was packed with too many items. Packing the agenda is not fair to the council members or to the public but you don’t solve that problem by reducing the public’s comments to five minutes.
The council must also start on time, usually, there is a 30 minute delay and it must eliminate the awards ceremony at the beginning of the meetings. At one particular council meeting, awards took over one hour.
Too many people fought hard to create a democracy in which the public has a say in government, now this council wants to destroy this important right. The passing of this ordinance will only delight developers who do not want to be answerable to the public.
Sadly, newspapers today do not cover local government today as it did in the past so this will have a major impact on the general public in understanding issues, so I urge the public to attend the council meeting on August 20th and tell the city council, “no.”