Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bob After Dark

Forget about free speech!  I wanna watch Matlock and go to bed early!

So Athens-Clarke County Commission meetings go too long, eh?  Well, hell, tell us something we don’t know, Bob Smith.

As most of you already know from being the in-the-loop readers that you are, State Rep. Bob Smith has taken a page from Ralph Hudgins’ new book, “How to Meddle in Local Government Without even Being Elected!”  For Smith, his meddling is in the form of H.B. 1587, a measure designed to limit the amount of time for which local governments can meet.

Now Smith says that the measure isn’t specifically targeted at Athens, but we think you all know that he’s fuller of crap than a Christmas turkey.  Unless, of course, Bob Smith has suddenly taken it upon himself to represent the interests of Vidalia, or perhaps Powder Springs?  Maybe Albany?  If so, then perhaps he should run for office there.

Of course this thing is targeted at Athens, and it’s yet another attempt by the people who purport to represent us in Atlanta to usurp the power of the local government to, you know, govern locally.

Seriously, kids.  We don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or Socialist – you have to have some measure of respect for the system that gives us separate governments for separate jurisdictions.  If you don’t respect that, then heck, let’s do it all the way and go in for central planning all around.

Do ACC Commission meetings last too long?  You bet your sweet bippy they do.  (As JMac puts it in the best quote we’ve seen all day, “Mayor Heidi Davison has said so, and everyone not named Carl Jordan has said so.”)  Is it any of Bob Smith’s business how long the meetings of our local government take?  Not in the least.  (Aside: Does Bob even go to Commission meetings?)

The issue here is not that the Commission is occasionally a bunch of long-winded gasbags.  (They are.)  It’s whether the right of a free citizenry to question their duly elected leaders is within Bobbo’s purview to restrict.  (It ain’t.)  If it’s a legitimate local issue, and we’re not saying it isn’t, then let it be handled locally.  We were kind of expecting this to come up as a minor campaign issue among some of the local candidates this year, anyway.

We suppose the big political question to come out of this is whether the ACC community is going to get as up in arms about this as they did about redistricting.  In any event, much like redistricting, this is a good issue for someone to bring up when they run against Bobbo.  Anyone thinking along those lines?

And here’s one final thing.  So what if the meetings run long?  Is that really so bad?  No one ever said participatory democracy was supposed to be easy.  It’s a job to be a citizen, and it should be a job.  As a culture, we tend to expect the highest results from the least possible effort, and with democracy, that’s a prescription for disaster.  Frankly kids, we can’t think of any better sign that the system is working than the fact that people stay up until 2 a.m. to make their voices heard about speed humps and bike lanes.

To sum up, we’re going to paraphrase the mayor.  Qualifying for local races is in June, Bobarino.  ‘Til then, keep your sticky fingers off our free political speech.

Athens Banner-Herald: Burning midnight oil blasted in bill” 03/29/06
Safe as Houses: Whither local control” 03/29/06
Daily Douchebag: Bob Smith” 03/29/06


GP said...

This whole thing smells like some kind of personal agenda or pissing contest with someone in Athens. Bob Smith has nothing to gain by doing this and is making himself look like an idiot.

Dawg Corleone said...

Actually, it smells like a Good Government measure. The fact that it's Heidi Davison who's doing the yelling is, well, as we say back home "the hit dog barks."

I don't know about this bill, though. Seems to me local governments ought to get a handle on this issue themselves.

And this government should definitely get a handle on it. What this government says to its constituents is: if you want to do business with us, prepare to stay as long as we think necessary. Prepare to listen while we pontificate on matters of absolutely no interest to you and then, maybe, come 3 o'clock in the morning we'll be happy to listen to you discuss your rezoning request.

How can anyone not be put off by that brand of unbridled arrogance?

Publius said...

"Seems to me local governments ought to get a handle on this issue themselves."

That's the major point, D. (And welcome back, by the way.)

In a perfect world, wherein most all of us agree that ACC Commission meetings go on too long, this would be handled far differently. For instance, a bright candidate might actually choose to make this a minor campaign issue. Sure, it isn't poverty or mass transit, but it would resonate with certain folks, and it's also an issue that than be expanded into a discussion of the the way the current commission operates in general.

Anyhoo, said candidate turns this into a minor issue, folks cotton on to it, and ideally, other candidates have to address it as well. On election day, the voters weigh this issue against the others, determine its relative importance, and the polls sort it out. If it's a big enough issue, then ostensibly, the candidates who support cutting down meeting times get elected with a mandate to change things.

But here's the other thing. This bill is too vague. If you want to cut down on the length of ACC Commission meetings, then "do it or else," is not the way to go about it. In fact, I would guarantee you that a blanket proposal like this will take time away from the citizens. I wold approach it differently; take the time away from the Commissioners, instead.

Think about it. The Commissioners have one advantage that your random VP of the Homeowner's Association doesn't have - the ability to be covered by the press on a more frequent basis. For instance, if a Commissioner makes a controversial vote (e.g. Chasteen and the redistricting condemnation, Lynn introducing the frat moratorium, etc), then the ABH will give them ink, and a way to respond to their constituents. So, maybe don't limit the community's time, limit the Commissioner's time.

One final point. Some months ago, I, along with many folks on AthPo, was in the midst of fighting for La Puerta del Sol. Back then, a lot of people were indignant that some 800 people in Cedar Creek could effectively hijack the will of what the city at large seemed to support. This situation is not as disimilar as you might think. Here we have far less than 800 people (pretty much Bob Smith and the GOP majority) trying to hijack the will of the community (in this case to make our own decisions about meeting length). Just some food for thought.

Dawg Corleone said...

Well, the bill ain't going nowhere (my public education English).

But, to be honest, I've seen enough long-windedness at Commission meetings to be half-inclined to support a Congressional bill that would put a muzzle on Carl Jordan, or an instant death penalty for any public speaker who wants to offer input after, say, twenty people have gone before and said exactly the same thing.

Every Mr Smith Goes To Washington Wannabe thinks he has the magic gems of wisdom that will sway the Commission. He doesn't. He never does. He's just boring. If Bob Smith, or anybody else, can figure out a way to keep those self-important jackasses from keeping me up nights, I'm almost inclined to go along.


Ned said...

The answer is more technology people!

The local government should set up a blog with the issues they are voting on and let people add their comments there.

We have a lot of people with a lot of ideas and unfortunately going to a commission and waiting your turn and then speaking for 3 minutes is the only way a lot of commissioners are going to hear your opinion.

The more people that have their voice heard the better. We don't need people like Bob Smith telling us how to run Athens. He is telling people to shut up and talk less instead of encouraging new methods of communication.

Jmac said...

That's an interesting caveat Ned. Perhaps the local government should set up some sort of form to send in input that can be readily sent to all commissioners prior to meetings. That's actually a damn fine idea.

And Corleone touches on a good point - many speakers do say the same thing over and over again, and from what I've heard from commissioners, folks don't particularly care for that. They tend to zone out.

Still, if folks want to speak, we can't say you can only have X amount of peopple speak. We limit the time, which is good, but I wouldn't support limiting the number of people who can speak.

Ned said...

They should set something up like that, but the probably won't. That is why we should all vote for Andy - if he wins I'll build the system myself.

I think what we are seeing is that a lot of people are showing an interest in local politics and that scares the good ole boys. It is much easier to go into a meeting with your mind made up and know that you only have to listen to opposing views for a set amount of time. It allows commissioners to disconnect themselves from reality and play a simple waiting game.

It would be better if people were more organized and had the best speakers represent their views, but I don't want to stop anyone from speaking if they have the urge to.

But really, the best solution is one that allows people to express their opinions and be heard.

I just have this feeling that people like Bob Smith would ultimately like to limit democracy because they feel like they have better things to do than listen to their constituents that they don't agree with.

Dawg Corleone said...

I can hear it now:

"Some people are too poooorrrr to blog..."

"What about the old folks who don't know how to use a computer?"

The solution is: use some common sense when you're running the damned meeting.

Set aside a set length of time--an hour, max--for public comment. That will encourage groups to appoint spokespersons as opposed to organizing filibusters.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

I think the blog is a good idea, not as a replacement, but just a good idea on its own. Perhaps it would at least reduce the number of folks desiring to talk at meetings, because some folks would feel as if they'd already said their piece. Then those who are too "poor" or whatever to blog could talk at the meeting. But regardless of whether it had that effect or not, it's just a plain good idea anyway.

As far as limiting the time of meetings, I don't think I'm opposed to something like the overall time limit you propose, so long as there would still be an opportunity for anybody who felt like they got left out to submit a comment in writing for the record, or some such. Another option is to have some sort of pre-meeting signup. That way it's still open to anyone in theory, but you limit the number of slots, again encouraging folks of like mind to consolidate, as you suggested.

But I also agree with my co-editor. It's not just the public making these meetings long, its the commissioners too. If they're gonna put a limit on public comment, there should be a self-imposed limit on commissioner debate/discussion/pissing contest speeches also. In fact, I'd be more inclined to go with a 2 hour cap on the public, and then a per-issue cap on the commission that equals 2, or maybe three hours. Even if it was three, plus the public's two, and the meeting started at 7, you'd be done at midnight, which sadly would be an improvement over most recent meetings.

Anonymous said...

well, there was a time, not too long ago, when you could choose any time and any method you wanted to contact your commissioners and let them know your opinion. That worked very well for a long time.

Then, some of the commissioners and most especially the media, began using some kind of scoring system about the number of people speaking at the commission meeting and that just f*ked us all! The ABH actually started this clusterf*k by smacking the commissioners around for voting a certain way when there were umpteen-dozen citizens coming to the microphone with the opposite opinion. Now, never mind that umpteen-HUNDRED had taken the time to contact their representative PRIOR to the meeting.

Then we have some folks (including many of you who post here regularly) that think that if you don't get to see the people speaking to their elected officials then it was some kind of "backroom deal". The fact is, at every level of government, you are allowed (even, encouraged) to contact your representatives to that government and let them know your feelings. There is no requirement that you do that in public or at a specific place and time. To suggest that this is some kind of clandestine and nefarious method of exercising your rights and obligations as a citizen is juvenile and insulting.

If I want to talk to Kathy Hoard or Elton Dodson then I do NOT have to set up a press conference to do it so, f*k you for trying to make it seem that my voice doesn't count just because I can't come to a Tuesday meeting!

Ned said...

Type out the word fuck sometime. It feels good and you don't have to worry about cops pulling you over here.

Fuck this, fuck that. Fuck the word fuck! Don't be afraid of your own words - they can't actually hurt you.

Just like standing up in front of the commission and expressing your view doesn't hurt. In fact, it shows others that you are willing to stand up and share your opinion for everyone to hear.

Not that there is anything wrong with talking to your commissioner directly, but if it is something you feel strongly about and have no reason to hide that opinion from everyone else - why not do it in front of them? That way the rest of us get a name, a face, and an opinion. This to me is much better than States McCarter saying he has a bunch of people who support his view in private - but we have no idea who these people are or if they even exist.

DoubleDawgDareYa said... sure where that came from. Not sure anyone was discounting anyone that couldn't come to the meeting. I was just saying that some individuals might themselves feel as if they weren't being heard unless they had some way to actually communicate at the meeting. Of course I encourage any other available means of communication as well; we were some emailing bastards around here during the LPDS thing, whereas not a single one of us actually spoke at the meetings (although I attended one of them.)

And by the way, most of the "backroom deal" talk comes from Mr. Jones, who, while posting a lot as of late to talk about his candidacy, is not someone I would characterize as a "regular" poster here, at least not yet. It certainly is not the position of the editors of this blog that Commissioners shouldn't be contacted outside of Commission meetings. We encourage bugging the hell out of them as often as one has time for, especially about an issue that you care about; that's a good thing.

But it's hard to blame the media for attempting to use the public comments at the meeting as a gauge for where the public's at on an issue. How is the ABH supposed to know who told a commissioner what when they bumped in to each other at the grocery store? Or for that matter how many emails from each side any of them have received? The commissioners themselves can bring this up, of course, in the meeting, and they regularly do. That's fine, and should be reported by the ABH along side the other (as I believe it was during the LPDS meetings). But if want your views to be public knowledge, the best option is to express them at the open to the public commission meetings; that's the purpose of time alotted for public comment.

Anonymous said...

I've heard this before and what I think the point of it all is that the commission meetings could be a lot shorter if people were confident that they could have their voices and opinions considered even if they did not speak at the televised meetings. It' the whole "score keeping" thing that makes lots of folks afraid not to speak in public.

Actually, I've always felt that the commission chambers look and feel too much like a courtroom (since that's what it used to be) and people get the idea that it's a "judge and jury" situation so that all the "testimony" has to be given right there. Think about it, though - all the hard-working commissioners are spending hours and hours reviewing the items on the agenda well in advance of the meetings. Only the truly lazy ones (don't make me name names) have done little preparation prior to the meetings. So, to think that it matters most what people say a few minutes before the vote is kinda silly. Of course, I want the commissioners to keep an open mind right up until the split second before they vote but, I do not want a score-keeping system in place.

Talk about the "voice-less" - how about all those folks who have to work on Tuesday nights? They can't come to the commission meetins so, their opinions don't count? If you have a strongly held opinion but your child has to go to the emergency room that night, you give up your right to representative government? You get the idea.

I'm beginning to wonder if the televised meetings was not one of the worst ideas - a good idea gone bad. I've had several of the longer-winded commissioners tell me that they think it's their duty to explain everything to the television audience. That adds quite a bit to the length of the meetings, too.

So, open government is not fast government - I can live with that.

Anonymous said...

Talk about the voiceless: those folks without transportation, who rely on the bus to get to and from... Let's see, the meetings start at 7 pm. And the bus stops running at or around 6.

I can't help thinking that if Heidi were really that concerned about poverty lo these many years, she might have done something to encourage participation in the meetings by the same folks she managed to provide bus service to for the PPA meeting. (dammit.) So a cluster* of those who profit from poverty deserves bus service, but not the average citizen hoping to be heard.

No, most people do not blog. Most of the 28 point something percent of folks who are living in poverty do not have internet access at their low-wage jobs, much less at home.

It's time to quit playing lip service to government by and for the people and look at facilitating real participation by the governed. That's why getting out the vote is... well, it's the right thing to do.


Sidewinder said...

Lets get back to Rep. Smith. First, he represents part of Athens so quit the outsider rhetoric - it only serves to polarize and alienate. He says his constituents say keep the meetings reasonable. Secondly, from a legal standpoint as well, I would think there may be a case for advertising meetings on one day and yet not voting on issues until the next day at 1 or 2 am. Lets save ACC a few million dollars in advance by avoiding that next, inevitable lawsuit. Third, Heidi says the commisioners have jobs and thats why they can't meet earlier. She therefore alludes that other county commissioners in other parts of Georgia don't have jobs. The ABH bought it hook, line and sinker and then resold it to us. Simply untrue and in fact most do hold jobs. Check with ACCG. Finally, also in that bill was a provision that any proposed moratoriums be advertised in advance of a vote. Surely we could all agree that open government would be better than what Lynn and Heidi are doing. My advice to all is to quit getting so blinded by the personalities involved that you throw the baby out with the bath water.

Publius said...

Well, the "outsider rhetoric" applies less to Smith, who does represent a small part of Athens, than it does to the few hundred other people under the Gold Dome who are going to get to make this decision which affects local government. I would point out that no matter which locality you choose to highlight, no more than a handful of those legislators are directly affected. So tell me, please, what possible justification does Jerry Keen have to make a decision about my local government?

As far as the ACC Government being sued for "false advertising," I'm no lawyer, but puh-leeze. Wouldn't we also be open to that if we had a scheduled meeting that had to be postponed for some reason or another? I'm pretty sure that that's happened in the past and we escaped lawsuit-free. And we all know that no one has sued us for having long meetings yet. So, I'm going to dismiss that as psuedo-legal scaremongering. Besides, there are so many other things you could sue the government for. Of course that sovereign immunity thing is a bitch, ain't it?

Nice try, though.

Jon said...

Local government is exactly who most needs to spend as much time as it takes to air an issue. If you think bills get ramrodded in the General Assembly, imagine how much worse it would be on a local leve.

Are there any true conservatives in Georgia state government? I can't find any. I can't tell that anything has changed since we technically overthrew one-party rule.

Sidewinder said...

I'm not sure anyone is pleased with all the spending, either through taxes by liberals or borrowing by conservatives. Should make for a nice election issue.

As for the scaremongering, don't bet on it. Do a quick check of lawsuits, dollars spent and lost by ACC over the last 4 years. "Staggerring" is not a poor choice of words. Soveriegn immunity is an urban myth in Clarke County. Postponing decisions to allow further consideration is acceptable by the electorate while discouraging debate and discussion until 3:45 am (2003)is seen for what it is. Let a developer lose a straightforward case and you can expect a lawsuit. Let them lose one advertised for one day and voted on the next and you can guarantee it.

Anonymous said...

right on! Let's let any developer do anything they want if they threaten to sue. Bring a lawyer to a commission meeting and let them all just faint at the sight. We'll have this town paved over and cul de' sacked in no time.

Let's rename the town East Gwinnett while we're at it.

Anonymous said...

You missed the point entirely. It's not about letting developers, or the government for that matter, get away with whatever they want. It's simply about having a few rules for a fair and open process that voids the possibility of a lawsuit, and encourages more particpation at an earlier time.