Council has been silencing our voices
Prior to 1993, council meetings were not televised, nor were the meetings at 6 p.m. in the evening. In the old days, a council meeting was at 2 p.m. Tuesdays, and the public rarely attended. Generally, staff and developers were the primary attendees.
By keeping the time at 2 p.m., the council probably figured that they could keep the public in the dark.
During the 1993 election, there was a push by council candidates to have the meetings at night and later also have the meetings televised for the public.
Wow, what a new beginning for democracy in a young city of more than 200,000. The people got more involved with their government through oral communications. Meetings often had more than a dozen people addressing the council weekly. Everyone was having five minutes of fame by addressing their councilmen and women in living color. Often, because of the number of public speakers, the council meetings never finished until after 11 p.m. or midnight.
What was really great was that the time the public spoke was early in the evening. Oral communications was a hallmark of which the city could be proud. The whole family could go to City Hall and see democracy in action, and be back home in bed before 9 p.m. Time to get ready for school or work.
And 2007 will also be remembered as the year democracy went to sleep and the public didn’t say a word. The new mayor, John Drayman, put oral communications at the end of the meeting. He was in his right, but was he right?
Moving oral communications to the end of the evening upset a few people at the time, but as the weeks, months and year went by, fewer and fewer speakers spoke during oral communications.
Only the hard-core stayed the course to speak on an issue that really bothered them, because of the lateness of the evening. The voters who had to get up early in the morning to go to work or get the kids in bed left Council Chambers before oral communications would start. Generally, only the voters who had a hot issue and the council critics stayed the course to closing time.
The people’s house became the house of the mayor, council members, staff and special interests. The public be damned, said the mayor as he made sure that the council critics ended up speaking to an empty audience and the TV audience would already be calling it a night. The prime time council participation would not be for the general public, but the mayor and whatever he wished.
Mayor Frank Quintero has decided to keep Drayman’s format of oral communications at the end of the evening. Quintero will continue to control the council agenda and keep the public and critics in check just like his predecessor.
Now Councilman Dave Weaver wants to put another nail in the coffin for public comment and democracy. He is advocating for having the public speak for only two to three minutes rather than the current five.
Councilman Ara Najarian had it right when he said the other evening that Weaver often leaves the Council Chambers early. Now the public knows why. He has a problem of staying past his curfew.
Does the public really want accountability and transparency in government? With Drayman, Quintero and Weaver on the dais, I am afraid that democracy will be stymied and held back under their leadership. The general public and council critics will have less impact on city government.
Please, please, Mr. Washington and Lincoln, come back and rescue Glendale from our little “dictators” in training.