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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Council Considers Axing Public Comments To Satisfy Newspaper

During last night's Janesville city council meeting, city council member Tom McDonald carried on with what can only be described as a brazen effort to guarantee passage of a request made by the Janesville Gazette for council meetings to either start up to an hour earlier or change the city council meeting program significantly enough to help the newspaper meet deadlines for their early morning edition. Really.

When the newspaper originally made the request over two months ago, the Janesville city manager made no recommendation and the resolution eventually failed only to be brought back for a second chance by the two council members. But this time the manager made a directional statement towards the council to consider an alternative way to accomplish the same goal.
Council Agenda Excerpt:
City Manager Recommendation:
This item is being brought back to the City Council due to a co-sponsoring request from Councilman McDonald and Councilman Rashkin. The Council policy allows via two provisions the ability for two Council members to request an item be brought back if the motion is voted down. I recommend that the City Council focus on whether it is preferred to maintain a starting time at 7:00 or whether it would be more citizen and City Council member friendly to begin 30 minutes to an hour earlier with the motivation to end approximately an hour earlier in order to benefit members of the public who would be coming to speak on specific issues.
The city manager inserted some careful wording there in a seemingly awkward attempt to cover for the two council members previous council shenanigans to exceed the newspaper’s original request. That it suddenly carries with it the extra suggestion about changing the commentary period during meetings to benefit the public was a slick way to steer the discussion.

However, council member Russ Steeber seemed to have the opposite view of the council friendliness towards the citizen comment period. Although he had qualms about changing the council schedule simply to suit another entity, he seemed more honest in his description and willingness to sacrifice the public speaking period because in his view it "bogs down the council and stifles the media." For whatever his reasons, Steeber does not want the public comment period to be part of the "official" meeting. He eventually suggested that the start time needn't change at all but that the public hearing period instead can be shifted around to accommodate the newspaper's ability to meet their deadlines. Just like the city manager suggested - only more blunt. In fact, Steeber went so far as to say that if they get the public comment section out of the way, they (the council) will accomplish what the Gazette wanted them to do. Never mind that public input and commentary plays an equal and important newsworthy role to city council business - at least to those who think so.

After debating on the subject for nearly 45 minutes, the city council eventually complicated this simple time change request yet again by introducing the separate and convoluted debate about the public commentary period. Near the end of this ridiculous discussion, McDonald vacillated between the 6 PM and 6:30 start times, counted the heads in his favor and apparently didn't like the Gazette's chances. Instead of an up or down vote, he postponed the vote again until all council members were present. Council member Frank Perrotto, who voted in favor of the newspaper's request the first time two months ago when the resolution failed, was absent.

I have to hand it to McDonald. That he makes no effort to hide his loyalty to the newspaper almost makes the viewer think he can't possibly be engaged in patronage with them. Who would be that publicly reckless? If anybody thinks these council members will go to the same lengths for the average tax payer as they are willing to go for special interests - think again. You'd be sadly disappointed.

You can read a "paid" review of the account here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Had Mcdonald voted for the time change two months ago instead of playing games, this discussion would have been over. And they wonder what bogs down council meetings? LOL.

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