(The following is a letter to Council President Ravi Bhalla and Mayor Dawn Zimmer)
The Board of Directors of People for Open Government (POG) invited you, and any council colleagues you chose, to meet with us in a public forum to discuss problems with the way the City Council conducts its business. In reply, you have said that, instead of such a meeting, POG should send you a list of remedies to the problems we have identified. POG expects the City Council and city administration to be willing to meet with citizen groups on public issues. Such meetings would foster the accountable and transparent government to which POG is dedicated. Inasmuch as you are unwilling or unavailable to meet with us, this letter will inform you of our thinking.
POG’s main concern is with the difficulty for the public of obtaining information about Council agenda items in a timely way.
1. The practice of allowing late items to be added to the agenda means that often the public, as well as council members themselves, can not read the material in time to prepare a careful response.
2. The absence of complete supporting documentation for agenda items on the city website has the same effect as the above; the lack of information about resolutions and ordinances that are to be acted upon at the meeting effectively denies the public the opportunity for informed commentary.
3. Judging from comments by council members at council meetings, the council committees do not meet in a regular way. Again, the result is a lack of information.
4. Resolutions to be acted on that night will be brought to the council meeting and handed around to members, rather than passed through the agenda and/or committee process. These appear at the last minute without affording either council or public a chance for informed comment.
As for POG’s remedy, we ask that, at a minimum, the council follow its own rules as set forth in the Resolution Adopting New Rules of Procedures for the City Council of the City of Hoboken, adopted by the City Council Feb. 18, 2009.
Article IV provides that all reports, communications, resolutions, ordinances, contract documents, or other matters to be submitted to the council, shall be delivered to the City Clerk by 4 p.m. on the Thursday preceding each regular Wednesday council meeting. Further, the City Clerk shall make the agenda available to the public as well as council members and city officials no later than 4 p.m. on the Friday prior to the Wednesday meeting. Exceptions shall be items of an urgent nature, and…shall have the written approval of the mayor before presentation to the council. The council should adhere to these procedures and deadlines in order for the public to be properly informed in a timely way about council business.
We use the expression “at a minimum” above because we think there were other steps the council could take in addressing these issues. You have said that the council recognizes that there are difficulties with its present operations and that it is considering changes to its procedures. We look forward to learning about your proposals.
President, for the POG Board