I have been observing and covering City Council meetings in City Council Chambers since April, 2007. Several times I have seen the Chambers erupt in applause. Mostly, it has happened when a City employee has been honored for years of service or some other exciting event has been called to the attention of the public at a meeting.
Such was the case on January 14 when the respective Mayors of Springfield and Willard signed an agreement regarding future land annexations near the Springfield-Branson National Airport. Council initiated applause and the room full of citizens accommodated them.
December 17, 2007 that applause, accompanied by whistling filled the Chambers as Tamara Finochiarro ended her appeal to the Council for assistance in the matter of dealing with the City to resolve zoning and fire and safety issues that have shut down business operations at Pythian Castle and labeled the castle a dangerous building.
That public initiated applause was met by the stern pounding of a gavel by our fair city's Mayor, "Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, we would request that you not applause anything. We require decorum in the Council Chambers, appreciate your observing that." Mayor Carlson said.
So, excuse me for nitpicking the fact that the public should observe the Mayor's interpretation of "decorum" as it applies to general public initiated applause versus City Council initiated applause. It feeds into a perception that public comment and public support or opposition for measures taken by our City leaders isn't a matter of interest or concern for some of those leaders, a perception which is further strengthened and legitimized when the Mayor, who has called on the public to "observe that" decorum makes exceptions to the rule when there is broad support "for" an agreement he approves. It also proves that peanut gallerians are not limited to those who don't have money to invest on projects in Springfield, clearly Finocchiaro has invested considerable money and taken considerable risk in restoring the Pythian Castle, yet she is not immune to being delegated to the status of a "peanut gallerian," in regards to how welcome her comments, criticism and concerns are by our fair Mayor.
January 14, Mayor Carlson gave us more reason to believe that such a perception is not unwarranted.
Our City code allows citizens to address City Council at Council meetings and there is a procedure in place, or rules, if you will, that govern that occurrence. A visit to the City's website explains How to Address City Council:
To speak on issues not on that week's Agenda Citizens wishing to address the Council regarding an issue not on the Agenda, may speak under "Petitions, Remonstrances, and Communications." To register to speak under this provision, the citizen must register with the City Clerk by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, prior to the meeting. At the appropriate time in the meeting, the Mayor will call your name. Please step to the podium; state your name and address for the record, and your comments. Again, the comments are to be limited to five minutes.
This is exactly the procedure that Tamara Finocchiaro and her supporters followed and they were limited to five minutes speaking time each. (There have been more than a few times I have rolled my own eyes and counted cobwebs on the ceiling wishing that Carlson was limited to 5 minutes speaking time, see this weeks City Council Roundup in CFP, such a moment occurred when after the vote had been taken on the sale of a portion of the Cox building, Carlson went on and on about how well the City did in making a profit on the sale, but that's neither here nor there.)
Apparently, five minutes on a topic unrelated to items on the agenda for any given Council meeting may be too much according to Mayor Carlson:
"I don't want to be arbitrary in enforcing the rules but at the same time, I think we need to know what they are and maybe have a Council committee look at, as we come forward, because it seems like we're getting more and more of these things and that may be fine, and we may decide that we wanna be here a lot later for everybody to come talk about whatever they do. Frequently, we have people come and talk about things that have nothing to do with city government, for example."
Carlson said he has:
"different Council people telling me different things. Some Council people say, uh, "you ought to be able to talk about anything," other people say, "there oughta be some rules around here," and if we wanna have rules, fine, if we don't wanna have rules, fine, I just think we need to get on the same page."
The rules are clear, perhaps the Mayor needs to read them before opening mouth, inserting foot.