Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1st Meeting of the New Council Brings Partisan Fireworks

The new council got off to quite a contentious start tonight. The meeting started with an organizational session where Tom Didier was named the new council President. Then Didier tried to begin the process of naming the council's appointments to various boards and commissions. Traditionally which ever party holds a majority caucuses privately and decides who the appointments should go to. Councilman Tim Pape took exception with this and suggested that, in the spirit of the new council, the process become more open and bipartisan. During this there were several exchanges with clerk Sandy Kennedy and she became visibly upset with Pape.



Didier didn't agree with Pape and they too had a testy exchange which Didier ended by saying "We can get along or we don't have to. It's up to you Tim." You can watch the video here



I thought Pape had a valid point in that the appointments should be more bipartisan and transparent. Allowing either party to caucus behind closed doors to decide council business is the epitome of closed government. I also thought this was the most partisan council meeting I have ever seen here in Fort Wayne and I think it's going to be a long 4 years if this continues.

And just for the record, I don't believe councilman Bender said a single word all night...

21 comments:

Phil Marx said...

This is Pape's third term. He should have known this was to come up. While I might agree with his proposed changes, I think he should have talked with Didier first outside of the chambers. It appeared to me that Pape was trying to grandstand.

Charles M. Langley said...

The Democrats were not impressive tonight, making much ado about very little. Seemingly, this was a political stunt by the minority party to make the Republicans look bitterly partisan from the very first legislative meeting. One has to wonder if Councilman Pape and Hines would have been asking the same questions and attacking the same council procedures had the Democrats won the council majority in November.

Kevin said...

I have more about this on our Allen County Democratic Party Blog

Kevin said...

Charles, after re-reading your post I must ask a few questions.

Do you believe in OPEN Government?

Do you approve of the GOP making decisions in CLOSED DOOR meetings?

Pape was very clear- he had hoped with some of the OLD guard GOP gone that the new group would be willing to change "tradition" for what is right.

They were not.

Rachel said...

All I can say is wow!

dan said...

January 8 will certainly not be a candidate for "Open Gov Day" locally. And here's why.

Per blog:"Traditionally, which ever party holds the majority caucuses privately and decides who the appointments should go to."

Therein lies the problem, but tradition often appears the right way--not this time. This customary practice was compounded by the non-transparent formal Agenda Notice-the proverbial red flag.

Red flag: Publishing the official agenda with the appointments all listed without an asterik. This is one time when an asterik was warranted. A footnote to tell the public that these appointments are subject to official ratification at the 5:30 Organization Meeting was called for.

Councilman Tim Pape was on right on target. Indiana Law defines offical acts of government bodies as public decision-makers convening to excercise "their" duties, responsibilities, authority or power. Official appointments of a Common Council President and Chairs and Co-Chairs would clearly fall under this statutory definition.

The defense offered was that these matters need to be discussed--absolutely. But the key word is "discussed" and not "decided."

Indiana Open Meetings Law does allow for discussions prior to formal govt. body meetings, but not the way this came down.

Discussions prior to deliberation are very much permitted and discussion group meetings are commomplace and considered accepted practice for governmental bodies, and are particularly used by legislative bodies addressing budget issues prior to convening officially...but the operative term is "discuss" and not "decide.
This is where "private" like caucus decisions ratified later at a public meeting run afoul of the law.

In fact, in one state the Open Meetings Compliance Guide (2007 publication date) discourages committee/board/council majorities even travelling together to meetings of any "public meeting" where the majority of the body are riding together in the same car due to transparency and the appearance of decision-making prior to the official meeting.

It's time to change and the fact that a challenge flag was thrown by Councilman Pape should help bring it about and certainly not permit this practice to become the norm for the new council, or any other govt body in the community, in this new year and all year.

It's overdue. Ch. 57 (Public Meetings Law) was enacted as Laws of 1977, which now means 30 years of changing practice to reflect both the literal law and someday its spirit and intent.

The Jan. 8 Council Meeting should have had this * on the Agenda, noting the new President, Chairs, and Co-Chairs, along with appropriate discussion in advance and then an official Organization meeting.

Perhaps, change will evolve from the Jan. 8 meeting dialogue on the process --and next year the Appointments will then symbolize in actionb Open Gov at its best.

Kody Tinnel said...

Reality tv at its best.

Who needs writers when we have local council meetings?

Jon Olinger said...

Personally I rarely agree with Tim Pape and I believe Tim would be the first to get in line to keep Republican's out of the decision making process had the rolls been reversed, but in this case I think he has a point. The vote is not likely to change but it would certainly add a greater level of transparency if decision were made in a public meeting rather than caucus.

That being said I felt the one most out of line was Sandy Kennedy. It was kind of like "How dare you change my process without telling me".

Phil Marx said...

Councilman Pape had a very valid point. The citizens and the board members would probably be better served if there was open discussion about these appointments first. However, I still feel that this would have went a lot smoother if Pape had brought this idea up to councilman Didier outside of council chambers. He could have even let Didier propose the official change himself.

But to do that would require that Pape be more interested in the idea itself, rather than taking credit for it or just trying to cause a ruckus. I think Kennedy was right on target when she admonished Pape. I guess the next time Pape plans a partisan ambush, he should make sure all his party members are on board first.

I remember when former Councilman Schmidt proposed that whenever the city is investing millions of dollars in partnership with a private company, that the financial integrity of that company should be fully disclosed to the pulic. Councilman Pape dismissed that notion with the proclamation that "That's not the way we've done it before."

Charles M. Langley said...

Kevin,

Thank you for the questions.

1. I do believe in open government.

2. I do NOT approve of closed door "caucus" meetings on matters of policy.

At the council meeting the members were discussing the appointment of five nonpolitical vacancies. It was my impression from others and the City Clerk that these positions had always been chosen by caucus every year for an extremely prolonged amount of time. Given the nature of appointments, it seemed logical to give the appointment power to the majority party. Let me be clear in saying that I find the majority party's action last night for these five appointments acceptable, however, in any other pertinent, high profile appointments, closed door "caucus" meetings are simply unacceptable. It was noted in the meeting, and perhaps even in the videos posted by Jeff, that the other appointments will be made later and it was subtly agreed that an open discussion would be necessary. I can understand the frustration of Councilman Pape, however, for these five appointments, the perks go to the majority party.

On another note, would you like to make a friendly wager on how many total words Bender will speak in the next Council meeting? I say 17.

Giggles said...

Pape brought up an excellent point. In reality, whichever party that happened to be in majority would've had said the exact same thing b/c they want the power. Democrats or Republicans. It's the same old fight as the Electoral College. If the Gore had won in 2000 with the College votes, but Bush had the popular, the outcome would have been the same, just with the roles reversed.

Fact of the matter: Just because something has been done for a long time doesn't mean that it is the best choice of action. Our country is about change and better ourselves and our government, and I believe that something that was more DEMOCRATIC in nature would be appropriate.

And Kennedy needs to watch her tongue. She's only the freaking clerk.

Sheri said...

Maybe Tim Pape wasn't acting "partisan" as so many here have claimed, but maybe he truly believed in what he was asking for. Why should he have to clear it with "others in his party".

The appointments would've come out the same, it just would've been more open. That's the same thing EVERYONE here in the blogoshphere has been clammoring about forever. Apparently Tim just has the brass whowhos to say it outloud, patisan or not.

Phil Marx said...

If a Senator from California proposed that his state be given more Senators, to reflect his state's larger population, one would naturally expect the smaller state's to protest. This would be more in line with the "one person - one vote" principle we hold so dear, so it would be the more fair arrangement. But it differs radically from our long held tradition.

Another example: U.S. Representative Julia Carson recently passed away. Her replacement will be at the bottom rung of the seniority ladder, and will have less power as a result. This is not fair. Every member should have equal standing whether they have served one day or forty years. But that's not the way we designed our system.

Under our self-designed system of government, there are many things that are not fair. Very often these take the form of special priveleges being extended to senior members or members of the majority party.

Tim Pape's idea has a lot of merit to it. But Pape is an astute politician. He had to realize that his proposal might be seen as a power grab. I still maintain that if he was more interested in advancing the idea, rather than engaging in a power struggle, he would have discussed this privately with Tom Didier first.

Tim Pape wants parity among members of the council, regardless of party affiliation. Well, I want parity among the citizen's of Fort Wayne. I want a larger council with smaller districts. That way I can actually have a voice in my local government rather than being misrepresented by someone who won this district just because he had a (D) before his name. I expect that Councilman Pape would have to give such a proposal serious consideration first, to make sure it did not take power from him or his party.

Kevin said...

Phil,

the Democratic Party of Allen County also supports adding MORE council memebers.

The GOP has blocked that move because they cannot gerrymander AND control council if we have more than 6 districts.

I believe it was about 2 years ago when we suggested adding 4 more districts. It was defeated, as I recall, along a party line vote.

Phil Marx said...

Recently it was brought to my attention that councilman Pape may have brought this issue up at a previous council meeting. I do not know for certain if that is the case but if it is, then I would like to revise my comments.

My entire commentary was based upon the premise that Pape waited until the last minute, then asked to make a change to something just as the vote was about to occur. If, in fact, Pape had attempted to discuss this matter previously - either in private or in public, then I retract my characterization of him grandstanding or planning a partisan ambush.

Pape's idea is a valid one. Everyone would be better served if there were open discussion before appointments were made. And of course the partisan majority has nothing to fear. Even if the other party disagrees with them on a certain appointment, their majority on the council would ensure they have the final say in the matter.

Phil Marx said...

Kevin,

I am willing to admit to being ignorant of all the facts at times, and this is one of them. I knew it was voted on recently, but I did not follow it at the time. Thank you for the useful information. I would like to see this issue brought up again in the near future. I know that you will not be leading the party next year, but perhaps you could suggest this to your successor.

It appears that there are about 10,000 citizens in each district who at least care enough to vote in a city election. If each of these citizens were given ten minutes each year to speak with their councilmember about their concerns, it would require thirty two hours per week of listening.

Ten minutes is probably not an adequate amount of time to fully express one's opinion on all matters, and the councilmembers probably can not afford to invest that much time. This is the failing of a representative democracy. Smaller districts at least make it more likely that the government and the governed will be able to communicate with each other.

Fr. Fozy Bear said...

My issue was not necessarily the partisanship as it was the childishness of his behaviour if you notice at the very end of the second video he smirked and stuck his tongue out slightly so in that regard it was grandstanding and reminded me of nothing more than middle school teenage drama.

One other issue if he really wanted to make a pointe of order he, a lawyer, should have argued the pointe much more efficently and without getting Sandra Kennedy so flustered. The entire fiasco took way longer than it should have. I would also like to know why the City Attorney did not interject in any of the bantering.

BTW Thank you for posting the video clips.

Kris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheri said...

Maybe the city attorney didn't interject because what they did was illegal. . .

Kris said...

It's hard to imagine that anyone who's truly interested in making our local government stronger would have an issue with Councilman Pape's suggestion that committee leader appointments be made on merit rather than politics.

This past November, voters (especially Republicans) voted across party lines, choosing candidates they thought would do the best job. It's odd, and a bit disingenuous, that those who were elected can't follow their constituents lead and do the same thing.

Jeff Pruitt said...

Fozy Bear,

I want to address the point of Tim "sticking his tongue out". While this might seem like childish behavior it's a facial expression I've seen Pape use on many occasions. It's more of an idiosyncratic response than anything else...