Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Time Limit on Trash Talk in Richardson

It looks like I was in the minority regarding what I thought was noteworthy about last night's council meeting. The DMN covered it straight, but the blogs covered not the Lookout trash transfer station -- you know, the subject raised during the visitors section -- but the number of minutes allotted to the speakers (e.g., here and here). OK, dump the trash, let's play along.

The effort to have neighborhood complaints about the trash transfer station listened to is done no good by this reaction. If the city or NTMWD had wanted to distract attention from the public's complaints, they couldn't have done a better job than than what the public did themselves.

The council's policy of limiting visitor input to five minutes seems to have benefited in an unexpected way those on the council who might not care so much for public input. Not only are visitors limited in how long they can command the floor, but now the time limit itself has become the issue, burying whatever the visitor was trying to say under the irrelevant matter of how long it takes him to say it.

I saw the potential for abuse of the five-minute rule in October, when I wrote the following after a meeting at which several visitors pooled their time to speak to the council as a group:

"Open mike night usually permits each speaker five minutes. Mayor Slagel allowed the three HOA reps to divide up their time, fifteen minutes total, however they'd like. As it turned out, they divided up their time pretty evenly, but wacks out there who want more than five minutes to harangue the city council might have just seen a loophole. Bring your spouse or a friend or two and request five minutes for each to discuss the same subject, then ask for permission to divide up your time how you need. That way, one of you can get ten or fifteen minutes of weekly fame. At least for one week, before the rules are tightened to prevent habitual exploitation of tonight's exception to the rules."

After October's incident, I anticipated the council would tighten up the rules on time allotted to visitors, but this week's incident indicates they did not. I now see how the arbitrary/confused/flexible enforcement of the five-minute rule can serve the council's interest in an unexpected way in cases where they don't want to tackle a contentious issue. It's ironic how the contentious issue of trash is buried by the apparently even more contentious issue of trash talk.

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