My Fault

The DeKalb Rescue Me Now website notes that there is a growing call for putting citizens’ comments near the end of Council meetings instead of the beginning, as happens now.

It used to be this way, but changed almost a year and a half ago when residents, including myself, called for a change:

Look at standard procedure at council meetings: The ordinance comes up for discussion; residents speak for three minutes each; the council immediately votes without further consideration or response to speakers’ pleas. Ditto the satisfaction level for the “citizens’ comments” session that, incidentally, occurs just about when everybody’s pulling their coats on. It disgruntles the speechifying residents. “Re-gruntling” grows less likely over time.

Mayor Van Buer set to changing the order of Citizens Comments right away, though almost immediately you could spot the disadvantage. With the old way, if you had filled out the Speakers’ Request form, you had the opportunity not only to speak to the issue you had arrived with, you could also comment on actions taken earlier in the evening if you had time left over.

Ah, well, we need to tinker with that one. Meanwhile, here is the full letter, published April 1, 2008, with the other ideas Mayor Van Buer swiftly acted upon in bold:

Editor: Knock me over with a cornstalk. Victor Wogen is right. Wogen, DeKalb’s 3rd Ward alderman, recently said that only the people who like to complain show up at DeKalb City Council meetings. Everyone is rightly angry, but a kernel of truth pops out if we let it. While Mr. Wogen is dead wrong about anybody’s enjoying the complaining, it’s true that this is the action to which we’re often reduced. Look at standard procedure at council meetings: The ordinance comes up for discussion; residents speak for three minutes each; the council immediately votes without further consideration or response to speakers’ pleas. Ditto the satisfaction level for the “citizens’ comments” session that, incidentally, occurs just about when everybody’s pulling their coats on. It disgruntles the speechifying residents. “Re-gruntling” grows less likely over time. When it comes to our money, this offense of relegating taxpayers’ views to the back of the process is magnified. If council members were closely partnered with residents in setting fiscal policy, I sincerely doubt they would find themselves contemplating six tax hikes in close succession and during a recession. But current procedures do not allow for such a partnership, and the default is a too-close alliance with city staff. Of course the employees will vigorously defend their financial interests every time and I don’t blame them, but those interests are not the same as ours. There’s also a fox-in-the-henhouse aspect to it that breeds distrust of what strikes me as an overall honest and responsive council – a shame, really. Discussion about revoking the city’s home-rule status is popular – I don’t rule out voting for such a thing, myself – but it’s not the only possible remedy. For example, we have advisory boards and commissions on everything from DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport to human relations, but where’s the committee that guards our wallets? Here are ideas for placing taxpayer input at the forefront of budget processes: •Revive the Budget Advisory Board •Schedule public hearings at the start of and throughout the budget process •Direct staff to conduct training of residents about the budget •Provide regular, informal, drop-in opportunities for meetings with legislators: e.g., “Mayor’s Night In” or “Councilman’s Coffee Chat” •Place the “citizens’ comments” session earlier on the meeting agenda. I urge the city council to consider implementation of these measures as soon as possible for our sakes, and perhaps for its own. LYNN A. FAZEKAS DeKalb

Two out of three of the implemented ideas are proven winners. What’s more, this is a blast from a not-so-distant past when the leadership would adopt ideas even from people who regularly opposed city policies. I miss those days. I really do. Psychologically, we’re probably talking about a degree of security vs. insecurity in comparing the “old days” from the present. Intellectually, it’s basically about the ability to separate one’s politics from one’s governance.