Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Springfield Mayor Tom Carlson opens mouth, inserts foot

Displays further contempt for "the peanut gallery."

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.


Jason said...

Very interesting piece. I'm not quite sure I'd say he was lumping her into the "peanut gallery" but he certainly wasn't happy with the idea of her speaking.

Still, that's what the current city charter says is allowed with that time. I'm not sure that limiting the topics available is a good thing.

Who was the President that put the big block of cheese in the White House for all to come and eat? Every citizen should have some opportunity to address their council on anything.

Jacke M. said...

Interesting thing, one of Carlson's concerns was one side being told and the other side not having an opportunity to respond. Well, there are no restrictions on the number of times the City can respond to allegations made by any citizen.

I note the City's attorney who wrote the response to Finocchiaro when she addressed Council on Dec. 17 was present last night and positioned himself at the conference table squarely in front of a microphone. Mayor Carlson's choice not to ask for a response from him was just that, Mayor Carlson's choice, and for that matter, if the attorney would like to take another two or three weeks to draft another response such as the one recently released, that's his peroggative too.

There is no limit on what and for how long the Council can speak on issues at Council meetings. In fact, I have seen THEM discuss issues that weren't on the agenda before too. AT the first meeting I attended at Council Chambers back in April of 2007 Mayor Carlson and others spent over 20 minutes chastising a local editorial page editor for a column he had written in the newsleader. That wasn't on the agenda. Neither was it recorded in the meeting minutes, and it isn't required to be. But, the least they can do is not restrict the topic that the public wants to address in their measley 5 minute allotted time.

Please, don't get me started. ;)

tom said...

Mayor Tom, in my opinion, would really like to see an EMPTY council chambers which would allow him and the "rubber stamp committee" to go about business as usual without being noticed.

I really do wish the personal back patting would end though. These people are paid to do a job and when they do that job they receive a paycheck as a form of appreciation for compensation and they get to retain their job. This is how it works in the private sector and I would expect it to occur in the government sector as well.
When our first responders do their job they receive compensation for such. This effort need not to be recognized in any manner on record in council chambers nor does it need to be recognized when it is an employee of the city.

If anyone saves a drowning child and they aren't a lifeguard then by all means commend them for the effort and recognize them. Every cc meeting I go to has had city employee love fest from the council circle and it is uncalled for.

Jason said...

I disagree Tom. A good employer in the private sector would give praise to his employees when they do a good job. It's not out of line for City Council to praise their employees when they do good things.

arainbo said...

There have been times when I have a comment or observation to pass on to Council members as a result of the proceedings and have chosen to make these comments via the City Council website. I am still awaiting confirmation that my message was received or "heard".

While the Mayor and other Council members are discussing how or if the public can address them verbally during Council meetings, I suggest they identify a method for us to contact them AND for us to know they have "heard" our communication. On the other hand, perhaps some Council members do not care to hear from the peanut gallery.

Chestnut Expressway said...

The key to keeping order is to have everyone on the same page

while the public is allowed to talk about any damn page they want...

Jacke M. said...

Dear Chestnut Expy,

I'm not sure what page you are on but there are clear guidelines for addressing the City Council. Many of the citizens of Springfield understand the procedure. Some of them have followed that procedure and been allowed a big whoppin' 5 minutes to talk to council about issues that concern them.

It seems to me that the ELECTED Mayor and ELECTED City Council, who were ELECTED to represent the people who wish to address them would be a mite interested in what's on their minds. How can ELECTED officials represent the concerns of their constituents if they are busy counting the cobwebs on the ceiling because they have predetermined that that stupid peon peanut gallerian couldn't POSSIBLY have anything intelligent to say that I, the mighty Mayor, might learn from?

What part of the procedure for addressing Council don't you understand? Maybe I can help you find that understanding...but, if you'd prefer to count cobwebs in your little kingdom of a bubble, it's your choice.

I've never met a person who knows it all in my entire life. There's always something to be learned and I've learned that the teaching can come from the dangdest places if my ears are simply open to hear.

Chestnut Exp said...

Sorry about the comment,
you are correct.
it was written by a friend of a friend from the trailer out back.

It is nice to see more of a crowd at the Council meetings, I am sure the Mayor (or some members of the Council) will no longer be able to pull off very many more of their endless bright ideas.

We can hardly pay for the ones that are already in place.

Jacke M. said...

Well, I owe you an apology. I probably misunderstood your point. I do that once in a while, 'specially when I'm tired.

So, excuse me.

Anonymous said...

Let's get as many people as possible to the next Council meeting, to support Councilman Burlison. There are some pretty nasty people commenting on the News-Leader forums who need to be reminded that good folks like Burlison do not deserve being treated like the reincarnation of Spiro Agnew.

Jason said...

When the truth comes out about the situation those nasty critics will have no choice but to silence themselves or lose any credibility even with people sympathetic to their cause.