Lowell City Council Meeting Notes: Part II
Here is Part II of Mimi Parseghian’s notes on last Tuesday’s Lowell City Council meeting. Part I was published earlier this week.
Lowell City Council Meeting Notes: Part II
By Mimi Parseghian
For the past four City Council meetings (June 26th; July 10th and 24th, August 14th), the City Council suspended their rules to take items out of order or to insert an item that was not on the agenda. This is not a healthy pattern. There is an expectation that the posted agenda provides an accurate timeline. Taking items out of order is usually requested by a Councilor when there are members of the public that are interested in the topic or more importantly, they want to address the Council on that topic.
It is understandable that the Council wants to accommodate these people. No one wants to sit hours waiting to speak for less than 5 minutes. However, consistently suspending the rules of the Council leads me to believe that either the rules need to be adjusted or more importantly the agenda sequence should be modified to fit the current need of the type of business that is conducted during the Council meetings.
By rule, the Council cannot meet after 10:00 p.m. Of course, you could waive that rule. But the Council chose not to do that for the last two meetings. The first meeting they voted all the remaining motions as a group. The next meeting, they chose to take up the remaining motions at their next meeting. The long meetings are not related to juggling the agenda, they are strictly a result of the summer meeting schedule and an extensive agenda. The Council did right not continuing after 10:00 p.m. People cannot make good decisions at that time of night after sitting there and meeting for 3.5 hours.
Speaking of Council rules, back in May after a disruption at a Sub-Committee meeting, a motion was passed by the City Council to “Develop a Policy and/or Designated Area to Allow Citizens to Exercise their First Amendment Rights.” The intent was to allow public speaking but set a well-defined rule of decorum for activities taking place in the City Council chambers.
The Council Sub-Committee on Rules met on July 10th and the report was discussed at the Council meeting that evening. The City Solicitor’s office was charged with rewriting the rules the Council rules that pertain to behavior inside the Chambers. As of today, the Council has not received the Solicitor’s report. I am hoping that is due to the cautious approach the Administration is taking. Those of us who have attended emotionally-charged meetings understand when there is a spontaneous outburst, especially when you feel ignored and that your comments are not taken into consideration.
I was happy to see two petitions to speak to the Council this past week. It is not an option that is utilized much by the residents. Anyone can petition the Council to speak on an issue that pertains to the City. I once saw a woman speak to the Council on fluoridated water. The Council politely listened and thanked her.
Some on social media reacted negatively to the pro-Cambodian democracy motion introduction, discussion and acceptance that took place this past Tuesday at the City Council meeting. Many felt it did not belong on the Council floor. I totally disagree.
Our local politicians are the most receptive elected officials. They need to be our voices for regional, state and national issues. A few weeks ago I read an opinion piece in the New York Times written by columnist David Brooks (sorry Paul).
The topic was the Localist Revolution. As I read the article, I realized they are talking about Lowell. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the column.
“But under localism, the crucial power center is at the tip of the shovel, where the actual work is being done. Expertise is not in the think tanks but among those who have local knowledge, those with a feel for how things work in a specific place and an awareness of who gets stuff done. Success is not measured by how big you can scale, but by how deeply you can connect.
The second difference is relational. Federal power is impersonal, uniform, abstract and rule-oriented. Local power is personalistic, relational, affectionate, irregular and based on a shared history of reciprocity and trust. A national system rewards rational intelligence. A local system requires emotional intelligence, too.”
So when the City Council discusses idle trains which are regulated by the Federal Government, plastic recycling, anti-democratic movement in Cambodia, solar power, or any other issue that a decade or so would not have brought up on the Council floor, we must remember that the dynamics in government have changed. We should welcome that we have a local government body that listens and tries to address our concerns and grievances.
Also, a number of people referred to the Council response to the Cambodia motion as pandering. Pandering is when a politician promotes an issue you do not like; when that same politicians speaks in favor of your position, then they are concerned and understand.
3 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting Notes: Part II
I watch some of the meetings on TV. I think that some of the items on the agenda are more administrative and do not need to be brought before the city council: requests for stop signs, lighting, security cameras etc. Department heads should be able to handle these.
Some items are “frivolous” like requesting 2nd floor occupancy rates, front porches extending beyond property lines to promote conversations. These should not be brought to the level of the city council meetings. Sometimes city council members are seeking attention and air space by introducing topics.
I think local government should be more vocal about state, national, and global issues. When the late state Senator of Georgia Julian Bond was in office he was simultaneously a national figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Elected officials can chew gum and walk at the same time. More raised voices in a representative democracy are beneficial even if sometimes loud and chaotic. With luck, the dialogue will be civil. But it should always be robust. Issues at every level affect the local population. As Mimi wrote, environmental issues cross all borders and municipal boundaries, whether related to air, water, earth, human behavior, or the condition of other living creatures. Politics crosses borders. Immigration. Foreign entanglements and alliances. War and peace. There are regional concerns about energy and connectivity.
I can understand when they take a motion involving children out of order. But there are often people there to speak or to listen to a something that was on a certain place in the agenda, only to have to leave because so much has been taken out of order. Does the mayor, manager, or city clerk set the order?