Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prohibiting Public Input

Ken Hutchenrider, chairman of the Richardson Vote YES Campaign Committee, explains why he thinks it's necessary to amend the city charter to prohibit public input at emergency city council meetings.
Another change grants the City Council the right to prohibit public input when it calls an emergency meeting. An emergency Council meeting has been called only once in recent history, and that was when the City agreed to house and offer services to refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It seems appropriate for the Council to keep its focus on the issue at hand when it is an emergency.
He chose the wrong example. I can't think of an emergency more in need of public input than an offer by the city to house refugees in our community. Where? How many? How long? All questions for which public input could be critical in getting the answers right. Surely, Richardson's reaction to this emergency wouldn't have been negatively impacted due to a short delay to let Richardson residents speak to the council before the council acted.

Hutchenrider says it "seems appropriate for the Council to keep its focus on the issue at hand when it is an emergency." Exactly. Emergency meetings are called on short notice. They lack thorough preparation by city staff. Members of the public who care enough to come speak to the council are the ones most likely to raise issues that might have been overlooked in the haste to act in the face of an emergency. Emergency meetings are the ones that can most benefit from the public's focus on the issue at hand. Why prohibit public input?

Hutchenrider fails to note that the same Proposition No. 5 also would eliminate the right of the public to even attend meetings of the council committees (e.g., the Audit Committee, Education Committee, and Retail Committee). There's no emergency involved in those meetings. There's no justification for prohibiting not just public input, but even public attendance at these meetings.

I recommend a "NO" vote on Proposition No. 5 because the City of Richardson ought to expand the right of the public to be heard, not further restrict that right.

All of my recommendations for Richardson city charter amendments can be found in "Charter Amendments: Vote Yes AND No".

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