Taxpayer input at meetings is precarious at best and may even be disruptive at times. This is partly because of the elected officials’ egos, partly from our government’s rules, and partly from the passions of the citizens. Some question if citizens’ comments are a good thing at all. I believe they are.
Taxpayers have an opportunity to read through the city’s packet of information after the city places it out on the city website approximately 3-4 days before the meeting. This month the city packet was 1120 pages long. 75% of it was historical but necessary to explain what the agenda was on the given night. The real problem is that unless a citizen attends every committee meeting and every department meeting there is a lot of confusing data to go through. Compound that with the fact that citizens try to read all the information, do their due diligence, and prepare to question the Council on the subjects and you end up with problems. Then comes the actual City Council meeting when citizens have no right to ask questions or join the discussion with their elected officials in real time. The only time citizens have an opportunity to question any subject on the agenda is at what is called “Citizens’ Comments” time, always at the very beginning of meetings.
This leads many citizens to try to understand what is happening before it actually happens. This has lead me and many others to jump to conclusions way too soon but on the positive side it also draws attention to flaws in the logic the Council may have been under. It also makes for a long night in the City Hall Chambers for everyone. These long nights have been an issue for many years and are being discussed again by this Council.
The Council is currently discussing changing citizens’ comments to a section prior to the agenda and another at the end of the night. They have also discussed that all comments be limited to 5 minutes if they have asked permission to speak ahead of time. Last night the Council debated citizens’ comments again and agreed to disagree. No one wanted to limit the citizens’ First Amendment rights but all agreed that some comments are a waste of time. My problem with this is that who will be the one saying your comments aren’t worth their time? The Mayor? A committee of Aldermen? When you head down that road it is a very slippery slope.
I will be the first to admit that at times I have jumped to early conclusions based on what I interpret from the information. There just isn’t enough time to contact every Alderman, read the packet, and put together comments for or against a given proposal. I guess that is why we leave it up to our representatives to make good decisions for us. But with today’s society I find it is too easy to allow lobbyists to control our government and the only defense comes from the citizens. Right now I see our city in serious financial condition. In my opinion we have lost our way in fiscal responsibility to the people and I speak out when I have the opportunity.
As I stated last evening, “Council, you may not like what I have to say but I have a right to say it.” This Council must find a better way for citizens to be engaged in the conversation or leave the system alone. It has served the American people for over 200 years and I believe it still serves today. We all have said some really dumb things at times and I have been bored to tears with other’s comments but whether we are right or wrong, we have that right. Don’t limit anyone’s speech unless you have a better solution. When citizens have no right to speak until after the vote is taken and it is too late to change anything, it’s not the citizens’ fault – it is the government process that is broken.
Mark A Johnson, Yorkville
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