Friday, August 03, 2007

JG Editorial Page Weighs in on City Council Lockout

In today's "Furthermore" section, the JG editorial board writes the following:
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?

3 comments:

Sam DiFilippo said...

If you are referring to the Harrison Square open house that was lat night at the GWC. That was hosted by Hardball Capital and Barry Real Estate, the city had nothing to do with the scheduling of that space.

The City Council meetings have been in that particular room since renovations began. The whole reason that the doors were shut in the first place were do to the large number of people in the hallway that could not be quiet. If they would have waited patiently and quietly, the doors would have stayed open. The assumption was that those people were present to speak about the smoking ban. When the open mic portion of the meeting came, everyone was allowed a chance to speak.

This is a dead issue. Hopefully, City Council has taken the necessary precautions for the crowd that could be expected at next Tuesday's meeting.

Jeff Pruitt said...

"The City Council meetings have been in that particular room since renovations began. The whole reason that the doors were shut in the first place were do to the large number of people in the hallway that could not be quiet."

Not true - those doors were shut as the meeting began. The sergeant at arms never tried to hold the meeting w/ the doors open.

"The assumption was that those people were present to speak about the smoking ban."

Poor Assumption. But regardless, why would they not be allowed to hear the rest of the meeting?

"When the open mic portion of the meeting came, everyone was allowed a chance to speak."

But we weren't privy to what happened for two hours leading up to that point. I don't have a statutory right to speak at the council meetings - that is a privilege granted by the council. However, I do have a statutory right to observe and record the meeting itself. That was denied; you admit as much.

"This is a dead issue. Hopefully, City Council has taken the necessary precautions for the crowd that could be expected at next Tuesday's meeting."

The reason for my complaint was so that the citizens wouldn't have to "hope" to be allowed in to the meeting. The city is required to provide access.

Sam DiFilippo said...

I made a call today, and the council chambers renovation is set to be finished in mid September.