"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

December 12, 2007

City Council Members Work In Concert Behind The Scenes To Alter Best Practice Resolution

"I didn't think they could make this whole best practices thing a bigger farce that it is, but they've succeeded where I didn't thing they could."
-Chris Collins on the Vannah and Collins show yesterday morning [mp3] discussing the vote taken on best practices during the City Council meeting last Thursday, expressing exasperation over an "eleventh hour change that was made."

During the discussion and vote on the matter in Council chambers, (audio of which you can listen to here, courtesy of Mary Serreze) language was stricken from the resolution that required appointments made to the Ad Hoc Committee for Best Practices in Northampton Decision-Making come solely from a pool of people who are not already serving the city via boards, commissions, or committees; appointed or elected. Best Practices, as an ordinance, is being developed to help better facilitate public involvement in decision-making, and originated from pent up frustration among some members of the community over decisions recently made by City Hall regarding a host of issues. Such as the Hilton Hotel project, the redesign of Pulaski Park, the Smith College/Green Street issue, the redevelopment of the State Hospital, and many others. You can read a little more about this resolution and the debate surrounding it here, and here.

Chris Collins might have made the remark quoted at top before he saw the following email that Ward 3 Councilor Elect Bob Reckman sent prior to the Council meeting, and which Daryl Lafleur has posted to his blog, Northampton Redoubt. Though if you listen to the audio linked above of that Vannah and Collins show, there is an allusion made at the beginning of the mp3 that suggests they too might have been privy to this information.

What information? Well, the email Daryl posted last night appears to show that the "eleventh hour" decision made during the Council meeting was indeed an eleventh hour change, but not one that was made in Council chambers, instead being made behind closed doors previous to the meeting, via private discussions among the Council members themselves. Not entirely surprising, logic would dictate that happens all the time. However, seeing it unfold via private emails is not all that common, and the results here really illuminate why golf courses are so popular with the political and business set.

Though Daryl has redacted the CC list, it would appear that the email was sent to the at least eight of the nine City Councilors. Someone on the CC list tells me that the email was sent only to one or two Councilors. The discussion with Councilors happened via other means. It follows:

From: BobReckman@aol.com
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2007 3:31 PM
Subject: Re: tonight
Dear All:
I am sorry to hear that Mary has the flu. I have heard from 5 members of the Council that they support eliminating the requirement that people who serve on the best practices committee not currently serve on any City Board or Commissions. I did not hear from Marilyn or Jim Dostal and did not contact Ray Labarge. I believe that David Narkewicz has arranged for Marianne Labarge to propose the change we would like to see. I am not worried about its approval and plan to watch the meeting on TV from the comfort of my home.
Bob Reckman
This exchange may or may not be in violation of Open Meeting Laws. Without knowing who it was sent to, and who replied, we really don't know. (as noted above, I have been told that it was not sent to a majority of Councilors.) Regardless, the Open Meeting Laws exist to protect the public from the private wheeling and dealing of your representatives on municipal matters that by default, have wide public consequence. That you even need a law to remind elected officials of this speaks poorly on human nature. But it does exist, and just the appearance alone that a concerted was effort made behind closed doors to alter a resolution put forth by citizens -a resolution which was redrafted and compromised on with much debate between all parties- a resolution drafted with intention, at least, to help alleviate and prevent the appearance of insider dealings such as these, is very damaging to democracy and community involvement in Northampton. The appearance given to the public that your input is valued only for the cameras, that is has little value or real impact, that it will be heard but ignored, is enough to create disgust among the public, keeping people away from the process of community affairs in municipal government. That is the real crime here, and actions like these beg the question of City Officials. What are you scared of? What is so scary about bringing people to the table who you don't normally eat with? It would seem that if you were really attempting to nurture democracy and community empowerment, you would embrace them.

UPDATE 12.12.07:: After speaking on the phone and in person with people about this issue, and re-reading my post now, I want to be clear that it was not the intent of the actions taken that gave me reservations. On the contrary, if you have strong beliefs, if your believe in your ideas, I would encourage you to have the conviction to stand behind that publicly and without fear. It is the way this was handled that gives me pause, particularly the large amount of hand wringing some City Councilors displayed over this change prior to it's approval. If an agreed upon circumstance was discussed prior, and decisions were made about it -including who would bring the motion forth and then striking the requirement from the resolution- let's skip the pomp and circumstance and just lay that out. I could and would respect that.

LABELS: best practices, city council, public policy