Muzzle time redux: Council again considers restricting citizen access

Looks like someone downtown has enough time on his or her hands to quit worrying about the city’s budget straits and instead focus on an apparently more insidious problem: voters wasting the councilmembers’ time at council meetings by asking to be heard. Thanks to Rudy Bush at the DMN for shining the light on this deal.

Mayor Tom Leppert tried to keep his head down while proposing a similar change last year about this time time; that effort was shelved after Leppert uncharacteristically was media-shy and slow to take "credit" for pushing the changes. His name isn’t on this addendum, either, but his fingerprints certainly are.

At first blush, a couple of the changes don’t seem like a big deal — people who want to address the council have to register in person, by phone or by email no later than 5 p.m. the day prior to a council meeting, and the council is given the ability to sequence the order of open-microphone speakers based on the frequency in which they’ve addressed the council in the past.

But a couple of the others fairly reek of indifference to voters. For example, the rules change says the council doesn’t need a quorum present in order to hear open microphone speakers. In other words, Leppert could open the council meeting all by himself at 9 a.m., queue up the open mic speakers, and then head off the bathroom, leaving the speakers burning off their time while talking only to themselves. Not much point in that, is there?

The argument against these restrictions, which I assume is directed at a few malcontents who like to hear themselves talk at council meetings but don’t have anything constructive to say, is the same as it was before: Once you start restricting public comment at a meeting of elected public officials, where does it end?

Surely, there are more important issues to be considering downtown today than figuring out ways to end the council meetings 15 minutes earlier. If I was one of the 840 city employees on the chopping block Friday, that’s what I would be thinking…

 


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