Monday, August 06, 2007

City Council Lockout Op-Ed

Update: The News Sentinel also published my letter along with Mike Sylvester's letter regarding statements made by city attorney Tim Manges

Today, the Journal Gazette published my op-ed piece on why the myriad of excuses being offered to defend the city council lockout are invalid:
I have been hearing numerous explanations and excuses for why more than 80 citizens, including myself, were locked out of the July 24 Fort Wayne City Council meeting. I want to publicly address these issues to explain why none of these explanations is adequate.

First is the idea that there was a surge of citizen participation and the council could not have anticipated the problem. This is simply incorrect because there were not significantly more people present than had attended other recent meetings. Why would the council think that the meeting where the final Harrison Square vote was going to take place would be any less well attended? There was also an organized anti-smoking-ban crowd planning to speak, and council members were going to address the property- to income-tax options as well.

Second, there are claims that letting everyone into the meeting would have violated the fire code and put people at risk. Let me be clear that I am certainly not advocating that the city should have overfilled the room and put people in danger. Previously the City Council addressed this exact problem by using the adjacent Omni room to handle the overflow crowd where citizens were able to watch the council meeting on television. This room is more than large enough to accommodate everyone who was locked out, and when I inquired about why this was not an option at this particular meeting, I was told that the Allen County Homeowners Association had booked the room. This room should be permanently booked for all council meetings until the renovation in the regular council chamber is complete. Furthermore, the Homeowners Association has no statutory requirement to post their meeting notices, and the city could have asked that they move their meeting into another room or facility.

Third, I’ve heard news reports mention the fact that the meetings are on public-access television, implying that somehow this meets the Indiana Open Door Law. The public needs to know that these meetings are on a cable public access channel. Therefore, if you are not a cable subscriber, then you cannot watch the proceedings. I cannot imagine that the city wants to set the precedent that only those with cable television are allowed to partake in the democratic process.

Finally, it has been reported that people were free to enter the room any time they wished. There were numerous witnesses, including public officials, who can attest to the fact that such statements are completely false.

There were many solutions to this problem, and it should not have come to anyone’s surprise that more than a handful of citizens would want to be at the meeting. I do not believe that there was any underhanded attempt by the city to stifle citizen participation, but that does not excuse their negligence. It is important that our government be open and transparent, and in this case they failed.


Jennifer Jeffrey, Chair LPAC said...

Absolutely amazing the excuses which come forth.

Thanks for a great letter and not letting this important detail of disclosure of government fail to get noticed.

Robert Rouse said...

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Parson said...

Both the letters an the piece you wrote were very good. I like the Harrison Square idea, but not they way they are doing it. Something seems shady.