Déjà Vu All Over Again: Proposed Council Rules Reduce Transparency

Last week, some proposed council rule changes popped up on the agenda at the last minute.  (See Unfair Park’s great post explaining the rule changes.) Some of the proposed rules were good, like requiring councilmembers to attend more than half a meeting to be counted as present.  But one of the rules seemed to be a retread of what the mayor pushed for last year, and I didn’t like it any better in reruns:  eliminating morning speakers.

For those of you unfamiliar with public speaking times before the council, here’s how it works:  Every Wednesday council meeting, the public can sign up to speak on any topic in either the morning or afternoon.  There are five slots for the morning and unlimited slots in the afternoon.  If you’re a City Hall regular who’s spoken in the last 30 days, you’re automatically bumped to the afternoon, leaving the morning open to others.

The problem with eliminating morning speakers is that it’s much more convenient for working folks to take off an hour in the morning than spend the whole afternoon with the council, waiting to speak.  See, if you speak in the afternoon, you have to wait til after the council meeting, and that can be two o’clock or 6 o’clock — our schedule is unpredictable.  But if you speak in the morning, you’ll typically speak around 9:30 a.m. and be out before 10:30 a.m.

I strongly oppose this proposed rule change.  We should be making it easier, not more difficult, to speak before the City Council.

I also object to the proposal to require councilmembers to pull a consent item off the agenda by 5pm on Monday before the Wednesday council meeting.  See, we’ve this “consent agenda” where the city manager consolidates what she perceives to be non-controversial items into a single voting group, and we vote up or down on the whole group at once.  Problem is, sometimes there are items that are on the consent agenda that need to be discussed and voted on individually.  Currently, any councilmember can remove an item from the consent agenda until the moment we vote on the consent agenda.  The new proposal would require us to do this two days before.  Or we could get the mayor or the majority of the council to agree to hear the item individually. Continue reading

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Another Reason We Can’t Muzzle Speakers at Council Mtgs.

We’re finishing up our “afternoon” speakers at 7:30 p.m., and our first two speakers were smart, articulate, and had legitimate problems they wanted the City Council to know about, and hopefully, resolve.

But I was just told that their concerns were not aired publicly, and the TV broadcast was cut off when our speakers began. I am not happy.

It’s Wrong to Limit Public Input to the Council

Every week, citizens have the opportunity to publicly address the elected body of this city. Five speakers can speak at the beginning of our Wednesday Council meetings, and an unlimited number can speak at the end of the day.

Last week, I learned from a Dallas Morning News article that “someone” at City Hall had made the decision to shut off our weekly televised council meeting before the afternoon speakers were heard. I have to say, I really don’t like having to read about changes like this in the newspaper instead of hearing about them first-hand at City Hall, but I digress. Continue reading

Mayor Proposes Limiting Public Speaking at Council Meetings

This week, the City Council will vote on a proposal to limit the public’s ability to speak before the City Council. In response, I sent the following memorandum to the Mayor and my colleagues:

I strongly oppose Mayor Leppert’s effort to alter the City Council Rules of Procedure to limit the ability of Dallas citizens to address this governmental body. Further, I am deeply troubled by the hasty and surreptitious process by which this matter was placed on the council’s voting agenda.

I first learned of these proposed changes last Thursday when Mayor Leppert came to speak with me about this matter (notably, only six days before the council’s scheduled vote). I did not receive a copy of the proposed alterations until Friday night at 10 p.m. Given the significance of these changes, I find it unacceptable for our Mayor to present this for a council vote with only a few days’ notice to the City Council and the public, without a thorough council briefing, and without a public hearing to receive input from Dallas citizens (considering that the Mayor’s proposal affects the public’s very ability to provide such commentary).

Addressing the City Council is not a privilege granted to citizens by the Mayor or the Council — it is a right. We are elected representatives. We work for the residents of Dallas. To seek to limit the time or otherwise prescribe the ability of our residents to provide comment to this City Council is antithetical to our purpose as a democratic body.

Pursuant to Section 7.11(a) of the City Council Rules of Procedure, I request that Addendum Item #34 be deferred, that the City Council be briefed by City Attorney Tom Perkins and City Secretary Deborah Watkins on this matter, and that a public hearing be held to gather citizen input on the Mayor’s proposed alterations.