An erosion of our individual rights? Feels that way, sometimes, doesn't it? We can't smoke in public...we can have our personal property taken from us via eminent domain...there's been a push to do away with the people's right of introducing statewide initiatives...the list goes on and on.
Earlier this week, while reading reporter John Fannin's coverage of this week's Sunnyside City Council meeting, I couldn't help but ponder the aforementioned erosion. Seems there was a bit of discussion on what the public is allowed to speak about at local council meetings, as well as when local community residents are allowed to step up and address the council.
Turns out, the council hadn't been accepting public testimony when it came to items that were officially logged in as part of the agenda. Not unless those comments were submitted to Mayor Ed Prilucik in writing, and then only allowed at the meeting if the comments were approved beforehand.
Apparently, at the persuasion of a couple council members, that rule got overturned this past Monday night. Now, if you or I want to step to the microphone and comment on a particular piece of business being conducted, or heaven forbid, object to a council decision, we have that right.
Makes you want to kneel down and kiss somebody's ring for being given the opportunity to speak up, doesn't it?
The only drawback to being allowed to speak at our local city council meetings is that all public comments are to be made at the end of the meeting...after most all the decisions have been made.
Fannin quoted Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Restucci as saying that councilmen are paid to do the city's business, that it's important the council meetings are conducted like a business meeting so things are done in a timely fashion. Concern was expressed that at some past meetings, when public comments were allowed during the actual discussion of an agenda item, the gatherings had lasted until 10 p.m. because of all the time it took to hear public testimony.
Council should be reminded that doing business for the city is doing business for those who reside in Sunnyside. The city is the people, plain and simple.
Don Outhet, a regular at the Sunnyside council meetings, perhaps said it best Monday night. "If I was making a decision, I'd want to hear from everybody I could. If you wait for public comment until after you've made decisions, it's too late," Fannin quoted him as saying.
Too late, is right. And the council knows this.
You see, there's less headaches and less controversy when elected officials don't have to deal with the public.
Sunnyside isn't alone in not allowing public comments during the actual business part of the meeting. That's the way things are done by many city councils. Ask why, and you'll be told that meetings stretch on too long or that the councilmen would rather hear from their constituents individually, either face-to-face or by phone.
But that practice just doesn't serve the best interests of the public.
Here's an example...say I'm vehemently opposed to a liquor license renewal request from one of our local taverns because I know they have a practice of over-serving their customers on a regular basis. Instead of being allowed to stand up and voice my objections to the entire council that this particular business doesn't deserve to have its liquor license renewed, I am forced to contact each council member individually beforehand if I want to ensure my message reaches all seven of the elected officials.
As far as meetings stretching on too long, I'm sorry, but that should go along with the territory of being elected to public office. Besides, it takes much less time for me to stand up at a council meeting and express my views than it does for me to telephone each member of the seven-member council.
It seems to me that our city councilmen might be more concerned with saving their own time, rather than the time of the people they were elected to represent. To put it bluntly, that's not providing very good service to the city (remembering that the city is the people who reside here).
For some strange reason, when most well-intentioned people decide to run for public office, it doesn't take them long to develop the mentality that they know what is best for all of us. They forget they were elected to represent the people.
Forgive me for asking, but how do you represent the people if you don't allow the people to go on record with their wishes while a decision is being made?