Monday, December 10, 2012

Mayor Limits Citizen Input During Public Meetings...

This is a transcript from the video
City of Buffalo Missouri "Mayor's Comments Limiting Citizen Comments In Public Meetings"
My comments will be in Red Font

Mayor Mead: "Additionally with my mayor's comments I do want to take a few moments to announce that meetings will be run a little bit differently from here on out. I'll explain the reason and it's kind of long and I apologize to Mr. Stafford who asked that I be brief. When I was an assistant prosecuting attorney my goal was to not object a whole lot at trial. I'm not the objection person. Something I learned from Wayne (Alderman Rieschel) is let people have their day in court even though they can attest to clearly objectionable things just let them say it. Let them have their word. And a lot of times it would drive a judge nuts sitting up there and I'm not objecting to things that are clearly without relevance. And I've often ran our Board of Alderman meetings like that. I've always welcomed input from citizens throughout the entirety of the meeting. Wayne and I talked about this over a year ago (but they say they don't discuss city business outside of public meetings) and he told me "Andrew you need to tighten up your meetings." We do have a section for citizen comments however citizen comments will run through all the other facets of the meeting. And Wayne said "You need to tighten up the meetings a little bit so that they'll run smoother. For the remainder of our meetings it's for the Alderman to deliberate things." And I think I'm going to try to move towards that. So I do ask that when it is time for citizen comments, feel free to tell us what you think, feel free to give us input. But when we get down to other business, it's not an appropriate time for citizen comments at that point. It's a time for the Board to discuss and deliberate and defer to our professionals that are here to assist us, our department heads and we can make decisions among ourselves.  As always though and I don't mean to short circuit anyone's attempt to be a part of government feel free to contact your Alderman outside of the meeting. Feel free to contact your mayor outside of the meeting. We're happy to meet with constituents and partake in what we refer to as constituent servicing. Without further ado I will open up the floor to citizen comments. Does anyone have anything that they would like to add?"

(I have attended council meetings for over a year and never felt that citizen comments caused a problem in the meetings. You can view video's of the meetings from the past and see for yourself that this has not been a problem. I find this very convenient for the Mayor and Mr. Rieschel to present this change directly after a regular monthly meeting that I garnered support from the citizens in attendance, in regards to closing the meeting due to allegations of Sunshine Law Violations.)

Citizen: "Yes actually the problem with doing that that way is that, when we come here sometimes we don't have a question until we hear what's going on.  I don't think that's appropriate that you don't allow it. I've seen meetings where there's hardly anybody that had anything to say run just as long or just as short as the one's where people do. So I think that you're kind of squelching the community being involved in their city if you do that. Obviously the main part, it's right here in citizens comments but I don't have anything to ask because you answered my question already with your mayors comments but I might have a question later about something I don't understand that you guys are discussing up there so I'm not sure if that's a good idea.

Mayor Mead: "Oh I understand and for over a year and a half I ran it that way. And it's worked fine. (So why change it?) It's been mentioned to me by a few people and a while back for the sake of quick meetings and efficient meetings and for meetings where our Alderman can deliberate and not get side tracked. And side tracked is probably a poor choice of words but to stay on focus as much as what we're doing up here. (Citizens comments during the meetings has not caused the meetings to go longer, or caused Alderman to get sidetracked.) If you have a question and you know you can contact me at anytime."

Citizen: "I try to listen because sometimes you guys answer my questions before I go and ask it. Will you be having another town hall meeting sometime soon after Drury is there something that will be coming up that people can come to ask a lot of their questions then?"

Mayor Mead: "I don't have anything scheduled as far as a public format but I'm sure one will be forthcoming once we start realizing revenues for the new sales tax. I plan on having an Alderman meeting, special meeting to look at what projects have been put on the table and where we want to invest those funds and how we want to move forward. And that will be probably, I was going to have that for the first of the year but it will probably be around February sometime, we can discuss and garner some opinion up here. We've already heard the voice of the citizens from the town hall meeting and suggestions are more than welcome. I've had a couple people approach me about a skate park and I'm trying to get meetings scheduled for that to discuss a skate park..."

Alderman Horn: "I would just like to say I object to that. I think it's a bad idea. It discourages citizens involvement but if you're going to do it, my suggestion would be to change the location of citizen comments to the end of the meeting. So they can make their comments on what we discussed at the meeting."

Mayor Mead: "Sure. Not a problem. Any other citizen, yes mam."

Citizen: "I actually have several. I want to refer to the letter that one of the Alderman wrote to the newspaper, in regards to several of the issues that have been going on. For those of you who haven't read it I'm just going to read bits and parts of it. In regards to Kristie's (Alderman Horn) unfounded allegations to the Missouri Attorney Generals office. That statement is false. Kristie is not the only one who has made allegations to the Attorney Generals office and I'll say that because I also did. And I'll be specific because the letter also says to be specific. In the closed meeting section of the Sunshine Law it says when a public governmental body votes to go into closed session they must cite a specific statute and subsection allowing the closure. At the last council meeting there was a request made to go to closed council meeting and I specifically asked the reason. The statute was given but the reason wasn't given so I filed a complaint to the Attorney Generals office in regards to the Sunshine Law because I felt like I should have been able to be given a response as to what that closed session was for. The answer that I got was, "We don't have to tell you, we could be buying property."

Mayor Mead: "I do believe we needed to talk to our attorney about attorney client confidential... maybe..."

Citizen: "The subsection was never stated when I asked for it.  Then the other part of this you just said in your opening comments to feel free to contact your Alderman. And in here (Alderman Rieschels letter to the newspaper) it says that "Consistently being on the short end of a 5 to 1 vote should cause one to look at their positions more closely." This disheartens me and concerns me that Miss Horn is being told to vote against what the citizens of this city are telling her, that we like and about our ideas. My concern is that this is encouraging her to not have a voice and not stand up for what the citizens of Buffalo have told her that we want. I just have a concern about that and I don't think that that's correct. There's a comment about "The old fogies getting it right." I agree that there does come some knowledge through experience but I think that new ideas and new comments and new suggestions are all important. They don't always have to be agreed upon they don't always have to be right but as citizens we want our voice to be heard too. And that's what we're asking and we're asking that our voices be heard without being told, "You're not always voting with everybody else so start voting the way we are." Is how I read that. My next question is at the last council meeting there was discussion about a ladder truck that was going to be donated to the city. I came to the special meeting at the end of the month there was an outside conversation about that ladder truck before the meeting. (More city business discussed outside of public meetings.)  However there was not any discussion about the truck during the meeting so my question would be what happened with that?"

Mayor Mead: "That would be a good question for our Fire Chief. Sir"

Fire Chief: "The guy that was going to purchase the fire truck didn't get the bid on the fire truck."

Mayor Mead: "So the person that was going to donate it to the city didn't purchase it?"

Fire Chief: "Correct."

Mayor Mead: "Ok. So it's unavailable to be donated."

Citizen: "Ok those were my comments."

Mayor Mead: "I apologize I didn't get your name."

Citizen gives name.

Mayor Mead: "And do you live here in the city?"

Citizen: "I do."

Mayor Mead: "Any other citizen comments? Yes mam?"

Citizen: "What I hear you and Wayne (Alderman Rieschel) deciding is you don't want people to have any kind of interaction during the meetings unless they pick this specific time. We don't know what you're going to discuss tonight.  (This is true as many meetings I've attended the council discusses items NOT currently on the agenda provided to citizens.) Other than the in general topics that you provide but you don't want us to be able to make any comments at all until a month or two months later during your little section C citizens comments. That doesn't make sense to me."

Mayor Mead: "I guess I could elaborate a little more. If you notice, at the very top of the agenda it says "Board of Alderman Meeting." This is a meeting of the Board of Alderman. The Alderman gather here to discuss business. This isn't a town hall meeting. This is an opportunity for the Alderman to conduct business. We're not going to put our fingers in our ears and shut you out for months at a time. Feel free to call me anytime. Feel free to call your Alderman anytime.  If you hear something tonight and we talk about closing a road, and you're against that, talk to your Alderman after the meeting. Say "Hey I'm against closing that road." Call your Alderman, "Hey I'm against closing that road." We're not telling you we don't want to hear from you. What I'm saying is I would like to run the meeting a little tighter so that we can conduct business without having public discussion. (We're supposed to represent the public... How do you conduct public business without having public discussion???) Alright? Any other questions?"

Alderman Horn: "I don't feel like there's ever been a problem. We discuss and deliberate much more than anyone in the audience ever interjects. That takes up more of the time than I've ever, since I've been coming to meetings for over a year. I've never seen it be a problem. I'm in agreement. And I wasn't asked about this either, this is the first I've heard too of this change."

Citizen: My concern here is, our group spends about $450,000 to $500,000 in discretionary income spending here in Buffalo. We're taking an active role in just figuring it out. To hear that kind of a strategy again about the 5 to 1, I don't think that's what a public official wants to do to shut is shut the public down. The comments of all the meetings I've been to have been pretty open and pretty short, addressed within a minute or two and then you move on. But to come up with a strategy that says, "Lets tighten it up." That's an excuse for cover my ass we don't really want to have a whole lot of people say things or discuss. It doesn't pass the smell test."

Mayor Mead: "I understand and I agree. It's my attempt to make this a more efficient meeting."

Alderman Rieschel: "Let me comment. Have you ever been to a General Assembly? To the General Assembly when they're in session?"

Citizen: "Yes I have."

Alderman Rieschel: "Have you commented?"

Citizen: "Yes I have. I've been asked to speak on the floor."

Alderman Rieschel: "Okay but they asked you to?"

Citizen: "Yes."

Alderman Rieschel: "But when they're in the middle of a session, from the gallery up there, when they're discussing something, you don't raise your hand."

Citizen: "You're comparing apples to oranges"

Alderman Rieschel: "No I'm not. I'm not comparing apples. Have you been to a school board meeting?"

Citizen: "No I have not."

Alderman Rieschel: "That's exactly the way the school board does it. You've got every chance to express your opinion but this is a Board of Alderman meeting and it's for us to discuss and if you're in my zone you're free to come and talk to me about the situation but the Board of Alderman meeting is not the appropriate to have a town hall. You're entitled to your opinion, you've given it, I've given mine now let's move on."

 Citizen: "Again that's what I'm saying. That's your opinion but is that what the people of the city is that their opinion who want to come to this meeting?"

Alderman Rieschel: "Well put your name on the ballot. I'm coming up. If you want to if you're in my zone I welcome you to run."

Citizen: "Ok I'm putting my name on the ballot tomorrow. I'm running for Ward 3. Personally in my idea, everybody in this town has a voice, everybody should be heard. It is not you guys that make the town, it is us as a people as a community that make this town run. If it wasn't for us you wouldn't have these jobs and you shutting us out like this is wrong."

Alderman Rieschel: "Nobody is shutting you out."

Mayor Mead: "We're not shutting you out, you're having your voice heard right now.

Citizen: "Yea I am. But you're wanting to change it. I came here just to listen in and learn what this is all about because I am running and I've never done it before but I can't just sit here and keep my mouth shut. This... the way you're doing this is wrong."

Mayor Mead: "Well for proper decorum once we leave citizen comments I would ask for decorum and I don't want this to be a Jerry Springer show."

Citizen: "It's not going to be a Jerry Springer show I'm putting in how I feel like everybody else did."

Mayor Mead: "Just a quick show of hands how many people have called me outside of a meeting? Was it difficult? Were you able to communicate with me and get answers?"

Citizen: "I would say that I think I understand the closed comments. I didn't need to know about the naked guy in the shower (This was a comment made by Mayor Mead to a citizen) in the camper that went on for about ten or fifteen minutes at the last meeting. Those kinds of things I would agree this is not the place for. I think there have been several of those in the last couple months so I would agree those don't need to enter into this meeting."

Mayor Mead: "But did he speak up under citizen comments?" (The gentleman spoke up saying he had a citizen comment after the time had passed but I don't think he realized when the section had ended. He did state he had a citizen comment before he addressed the council. The mayor said the inappropriate things about him showering naked. The gentleman did not say anything inappropriate and denied the mayors claims. You can see that discussion in this video HERE) If he were to speak up at citizen comments that's fine. That's what citizen comments are for. Yes Mam?"

Citizen: "Isn't there a little more public accountability if we're able to bring it up openly in front of the board and our other common citizens to you, as opposed to calling and you and you squelching an idea we have before you ever bring it here?"

Mayor Mead: "You could bring it up as citizen comments. If you don't like the Locust Street Project..."

Citizen: "Yes but what happens when you guys bring up something after citizen comments and we can't say anything until the next month?"

Mayor Mead: "Well what I'm going to do is I'm going to put citizen comments at the end." (If you think about it... This has the potential to cause meetings to drag on much longer as we will have to GO BACK and readdress things we previously discussed instead of just addressing the comments and concerns during the discussion.) I'll address it again at the end of this meeting and hereinafter it will be at the end of the agenda. Is that ok?"

Citizen: "I don't know, I don't know how the general population feels about it but I was just curious." 

Mayor Mead: "Are there any other comments? Yes mam?"

Citizen: "I've never called you because you and I apparently don't get along face to face. Why would I want to call you?"

Mayor Mead: "I get along with everybody fine." 

Citizen: "You've been pretty hateful and snotty to me before."

Mayor Mead: "I've been nothing but friendly to you."

Citizen: "So I don't feel like I can call you up and talk to you about anything."

Mayor Mead: "Mam you threatened to assault me at one point in time and I smiled and..."

Citizen: "When did I threaten to assault you?"

Mayor Mead: "At the town hall meeting. You said if there were a legal way for me to punch you I would."

 Citizen: "I did not."

Mayor Mead: "And I just kind of chuckled and we went about our business."

Citizen: "I did not ever say that to you."

Mayor Mead: "You most certainly did too."

Citizen: "Oh no I most certainly did not."

Mayor Mead: "I'm sure you didn't mean it but at any rate... You're welcome to contact me by telephone or stop by the law office if I'm there or stop by city hall if I'm here anytime I'd be happy to make time for your concerns."

Citizen: "You're a liar."

Mayor Mead: "Fair enough.  Are there any other citizen comments?"

Citizen: "That didn't go well did it?"

Mayor Mead: "I've been called worse things."

Citizen: "I don't mean that." (I think he was referring to the plan to keep citizens from commenting during the meetings.)

Mayor Mead: "Are there any other citizen comments? Alright..."

You can view this video HERE

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