Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23, 2012 The Mayor's Letter, Public Comments, and the Amended Public Comments Ordinance

There was a packed house at Tuesday's council meeting and lots of public comments about public comments.

It started with an Ordinance passed by Councilmembers LeBel/Senter/Bivens/Garrett on first reading on 2/7/12 to revise the city council's Agenda format and put public comments at the end of the meeting after all votes had been taken. LeBel was also proposing speaking guidelines that would reduce the time allowed for public comments from three minutes to two minutes. The  Ordinance was opposed on 2/7/12 by Mayor Thomas and Councilmembers Gene Brooks and Claude Jinks.

To protect the public from the negative effect of the Ordinance passed by LeBel/Senter/Bivens/ Garrett, Mayor Thomas sent out a letter to the citizens just over a week later alerting them to the second reading on that ordinance on February 21, 2012, and encouraging them to come to the 2/21/12 meeting and speak on this issue. Click here to see the letter.

Mayor Thomas had tried on 2/7/12 to head off the LeBel Ordinance putting public comments at the end of meetings and the guidelines that would reduce the time allowed for speakers from three minutes to two minutes. 

Thomas tried to get Councilmembers to slow up and consider formats with more public comment opportunities on agenda items before votes were taken. Thomas suggested that no vote be taken on the LeBel Ordinance so that a work session could take place. Thomas showed the Council the "recommended" MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) agenda that provides for public comments prior to votes and at the end of the meetings. [Public hearings on 2nd readings of ordinances were unaffected by either the LeBel or Thomas proposals.]

Councilmembers LeBel/Senter/Garrett/Bivens wouldn't slow up and wouldn't change their ordinance to add public input on agenda items such as contracts, resolutions, and appointments before votes were taken. 

With no "news"paper editorial standing up for the people of Morristown, Mayor Danny Thomas did what he could to make sure that the citizens knew that the LeBel, Senter, Garrett, and Bivens  Ordinance on public comments was up for second and final reading on 2/21/12.

Mayor Thomas wrote a letter alerting citizens and went to the "news"paper on 2/14/12 to ask that his letter be published as a Letter to the Editor. The "news"paper apparently refused--but did offer to take the Mayor's money if the Mayor wanted to run the letter as a political ad and mentioned a possible news article.  Mayor Thomas mailed his letter out directly to the voters.

At some point, LeBel, Senter, Bivens, and/or Garrett decided to amend the agenda format that they had voted for on 2/7/12 and apparently Kay Senter delivered an "amended" Agenda format to the City Administrator's Office on 2/16/12---after the Mayor had discussed his letter with the "news"paper and after the letter had been mailed out.

On Tuesday 2/21/12, Senter walked into the council meeting in front of a packed house and quickly moved to amend/replace the Agenda Ordinance that had passed on 2/7/12---and that put public comments at the end of the meeting--with the amended Agenda Ordinance that she had brought to the City Administrator on 2/16/12.  
What Senter was officially proposing on 2/21/12--adding a time for public comments on agenda items BEFORE votes were taken and general public comments at the end of the meeting--was pretty much what Mayor Thomas had suggested on 2/7/12 but which was rejected at that time by LeBel/ Senter/ Bivens/Garrett in favor of THEIR Agenda putting general public comments at the end.

After Senter presented the amended (and very improved) agenda ordinance, Paul LeBel, Chris Bivens, and Kay proceeded to attack the Mayor for sending out his letter to citizens.

You would have thought they had ALWAYS planned to allow more public input rather than less. You would have thought that  THEIR VOTE to put public comments at the end of meetings and THEIR  GUIDELINES to reduce the time allowed for speakers had never taken place and caused the letter to be sent out.

The video above shows how citizens can make a difference.  Rev. Richard Crayne gave a moving account of those who fought and died for our liberty and for freedom of speech.

Brenda Goodson thanked the Mayor for sending the letter and suggested that council get a larger meeting room because "we're coming back." Ricky Lowe wondered what would have happened if the Mayor had not sent out his letter. Brian Southerland told councilmembers that if you don't have the time to listen to the people, don't run for office.

The 2/21/12 Amended Agenda Ordinance was a great victory for the people. What started with a vote by four councilmembers on 2/7/12 to marginalize and reduce the time for public input ended up as an Ordinance that passed unanimously on 2/21/12 providing for more opportunities for public comment and preserving the three minute time limit. 

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