Letter to the Editor – “Time to Shine Some Sunlight on City Hall” by Terry Brand
By Terry Brand
Let me first define whom I include in “City Hall”. To me, it includes the hired administrative staff, the elected alderman, and the elected mayor. It seems they all have some responsibility in decisions being made, so I lump them all together as “City Hall”
I’ve attended several committee and full council meetings over my fifteen years of living in the city. Most of the time, it’s because I have an interest in an issue that is being addressed.
I’ve noticed some very consistent patterns, which are cause for concern.
- Decisions are always being made in a last minute way.
- There is little to no long-range planning that guides the decisions being made.
- Staff pretty much makes all the decisions by presenting a single idea to a committee, the committee approves it for recommendation to the Council with maybe a little discussion, and the Council approves it with no discussion, and in some cases by way of the consent agenda.
- The general public is poorly informed because all the real decisions are made at the committee level, which never gets reported to or covered by the local media.
- Very few people have the intestinal fortitude to attend any of these meetings.
- It’s very difficult to get information on how and why decisions were made once the Council approves it. “City Hall” gets very defensive when you ask a question. Excuses and why we can’t are the norm.
- The annual “approval of the budget” seems to be justification to do just about anything you were able to hide in your budget.
- The budget is the budget only until the new fiscal year begins in January. Then it’s a race to claim your department’s share of the undesignated fund balance, contingency fund, or slush fund.
- Big decisions get made without the input from Council members or directly effected property owners. For example, the drastic change in Deleglise Street last summer or the debacle of south Sunset Drive a couple years back when the City wanted to put sidewalks in along with new curb/gutter/pavement and the property owners rejected the sidewalks so “City Hall’ decided to do none of the work and either gave up the funds or let them be spent elsewhere.
- Aldermen ask very few questions, and when they do ask questions, they are quickly shut down.
- Transparency does not exist at “City Hall”.
I encourage everyone to read the agendas, if you can find them. Read the minutes, if you can find them. Communicate directly with your Alderman on any concerns you have. And most importantly regularly attend at least one committee or Council meeting each year. You don’t even have to say anything, just sit there. Keep them honest by being in front of their faces. Can you imagine how many people would be at each meeting if everyone attended just one per year? They would have to hold their meetings at the Volm Theatre.
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