What the heck is going on with city government these days? Change with a capital C. I actually like change. I believe in change. But and there is a big BUT, change to further one's agenda, to stifle or restrict public input or access is change we don't need and is not good public policy. Change needs to be well thought out, researched, debated, public input, reviewed AGAIN and AGAIN, before change affecting public policy is adopted.
What we have seen this past month or so is proposed change that appears to be knee jerk reactions to noisy and persistent citizens and irritating councilor actions. When public officials take things too personally, you start getting ineffective change that makes for poor public policy. This mayor and council is like a perfect storm of reaction and counter reaction instead of effective, thoughtful and meaningful public policy.
Being in the public eye is not always comfortable. It's not always high five moments, clapping in adulation over how wonderful one is, kudoos for a job well done. Being in politics can get tiring and sometimes, one's feelings can get hurt. Scrutiny about everything one does and what one says sees the light of day and is commented on. That's why holding public office means you are in the public eye - all the time!
At the end of the January 9th City Council meeting, the mayor passed the gavel to the council chair so he could personally address citizens who stood up and gave public input at the beginning of the meeting. It appears the mayor forgot about the language his city attorney proposed to the city council and he approved as an agenda item for consideration and adoption regarding Chapter 2 of the city ordinances. The proposed ordinance language relating to addressing the council, which was deferred until after the election, states:
Section 2-16. Addressing the council; time limit.
(a) During the public input portion at the start of a city council meeting, no person shall be permitted to speak on a topic that appears later in that meeting's agenda if public input will be received when that agenda item is up for discussion. During public input, city council members are not permitted to engage in a dialogue or discussion with the presenter.
When asked about what happened at the January 9th council meeting, the mayor said:
“When you do have to moderate these functions, they basically want you to bite your tongue the four years you’re here,” he said. “I think the people of Sioux Falls understand that you can only bite your tongue for so long.”
Really? What is public input for if it is not a time to allow a citizen an unfettered, uncensored time to address the city council on any issue. Biting one's tongue during or after public input at a council meeting is exactly what a public official needs to do. No matter how irritating or tiresome that public input may be. After all, the mayor and the city council have all the advantages of public comment. They have the bully pulpit ad infinitum.
So, when things get tough, or you don't like something that is happening to you, propose a change. So how about changing the public input from the beginning of the council meeting to the end of the council meeting. Yes, that's the ticket! Let's punish those tiresome citizens who want to have a little say in their local government and make them sit through the entire council meeting. When will the ridiculous proposals of change ever end down at City Hall and Carnegie Town Hall?
When asked to comment about changing when the public can address the council, here is what the mayor said:
..........Huether said it’s up to councilors because the meetings are theirs. And while he said he “loves” that the community can have dialogue with its officials, it can get old.
“However, listening to the same dialogue every Monday, it does get a little tiring,” he said. “But it is a democracy, and as long as they are fair and professional and, I guess, respectful, the people have a right.”
That's right, it is a democracy. As a public official, whether you find it tiresome or a little old, it is your job to bite your tongue and let the citizen have a little public input. That's why it is called public input. When public input from a citizen becomes a little tiring and gets old is the time for you step down as a public official because you have forgotten that it is not about you. If you don't like the heat of public scrutiny, input and debate, then get out of the kitchen of political office. It is about democracy!