Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brunswick Town Council: going underground

This reporter well remembers the council/public interaction that not all that long ago resulted in the addition of a public comment period to each town council meeting.  We have former councilor and town resident Nancy Randolph to thank for spearheading that effort.

The usual suspects on the council of that era were horrified that the public would have a “bully pulpit” from which to take issue with the council or otherwise express themselves.  As if councilors don’t have a permanent “bully pulpit.”  They tried to limit the idea to a trial period; to schedule the comments for the very end of the meeting; and otherwise restrict it.  A shameful disdain for the public voice was apparent.

Now it seems that the same thing is being tried again: claiming to support public comment while rendering it so impractical and discouraging that all but the most determined will write it off as a real option.

We refer to this item on the agenda for this past Monday’s council meeting:

The Town Council will discuss changing the Council Rules of Order to have Public Comment after new Business Items, and will determine if any future action is necessary. (Councilor Favreau and Councilor Wilson)

We can envision no motivation for such a motion other than to diminish public comment to a nullity without actually eliminating it from the rules of order.  Imagine the gun control lobby proposing to change the rules associated with gun ownership to require a $10 million liability policy for each gun a citizen owns.  They would claim they aren’t infringing on the right, even though they would put it beyond the practical reach of the vast majority.

Placing the comment period “after new Business Items” makes it, practically speaking, the last agenda item of the evening.  The only other item before adjournment would be the “consent agenda,” which by definition is a one second gaveling of preapproved items. 

For the uninitiated, this means public comment would typically take place somewhere between 9 pm and 10:30 pm, after the majority of meeting attendees have bailed out, and the unknown audience watching the Cable 3 broadcast of the meeting has dozed off or tuned out or both.

Taken on its face, this proposal is an exceedingly arrogant attempt by the council to stifle and marginalize public comment on non-agenda hearing items, and to march backwards on public participation in “community discourse,” open government, and approachability. 

While the meeting report in the Ostrich says the item was tabled, we cannot imagine a straight faced explanation of why such a change makes sense.  (Unless you consider council boredom and disdain a ‘straight-faced’ explanation, that is.)

Having missed the council meeting and its broadcast because of personal travel, I decided I’d plan to watch the replay of Monday’s council meeting. 

XXXXXX says the studio audience!!

When I attempted to track down a meeting replay a few weeks ago, I was unable to find the scheduled replays that used to be SOP on our local cable access channel.  I emailed the cable channel then, and got no response at all.

I can find no indication that Monday night’s meeting, or any council meeting, is now scheduled for replay.

So it appears that not only has the town council decided they’d like to severely discourage, if not eliminate, public comment at council meetings, they have also decided that such meetings should not be replayed on the local community information channel.

Are we misreading this, or has town government veered sharply towards avoiding public engagement and limiting access to public meetings?

As always, those in power who would like to respond will be given full access to these pages.

This reporter, as you would expect, has contacted those responsible for the suggestion to limit public comment, even though one of them blocks our email address.  When we hear back, we’ll be sure to publish their response.

We can’t wait to hear from them.  While I did ask that they limit their answers to less than 10 words, and that they be written between 3:07 am and 3:09 am, I trust they will understand these are simply procedural details meant to make Other Side more open and welcoming to government officials.

1 comment:

  1. Well, town gov't prefers "yes men or women" whenever their plans are in motion and decries any objections to their imperialism. Even the matter of a bona fide board making a decision re the Bowdoin College's demolition of the building at the corner of Cleaveland and No Name was overturned when pressure was applied. Really, Poppy, you surely write tongue in cheek when you cite your own amazement? Only recently a unilateral decision was made to permit the (in)famous JHR corporation to fly private signage at the corner of Maine and Station Ave from citizen-owned light poles and on public right of way in order to advertise their new development. Ordinances, public objection or public input; these are but "clutter" to the minds of those who WILL do as they please; after all, they know best? (Oh, yes, that last bit was my own tongue in cheek)!