SOME CITIZENS were shut out of last week’s City Council meeting because there wasn’t room for them in the council’s temporary chambers on the second floor of the City-County Building.
The meeting included two key topics: The council’s important up-or-down vote on Harrison Square and another appearance by a group of pro-smoking advocates who once again confused poisoning the air around them with a constitutional right.
A summer-long renovation project that includes new audience seating has shut down the council’s spacious chambers in Room 126, sending council members to the county commissioners’ chambers in Room 200, which has seating for about 50. The council had piped video and audio of its proceedings to the Omni room next door to accommodate larger crowds, but that room was booked for a different meeting at the same time as the council meeting.
We’re not sure that the arrangement was a violation of the state’s open meetings law – Indiana General Assembly committee meetings more often suffer the same problem.
And moving the meeting to another building could have cost the city unbudgeted rental fees and prohibited the meeting from being shown live on cable TV.
But city officials should have explored other options – IPFW, the Fort Wayne Community Schools’ boardroom and the Allen County Public Library among them – to accommodate citizens interested in seeing and hearing their elected representatives.
This is about what I expected from the JG. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that they rightly chastised the city for not doing everything they could to accommodate the citizens. But I'm somewhat underwhelmed by their support as I remember a time when the media were staunch advocates of open government; now I fear they're more concerned about maintaining relationships with those in power.
There's still one point that needs to be absolutely clear. The meeting that was scheduled in the Omni room mentioned in the above story was not for a public body and thus could've been moved. Also, the city council could've simply booked the Omni room for the duration of the renovations to their normal chambers.
Readers should also note that when the city needs meeting space to promote Harrison Square they always seem to book a large enough room. Why should city council meetings not receive the same kind of attention when booking its meeting space?