COUNCIL ‘MELLER-DRAMMER’ PROMISES TO BE A DOOZY TONIGHT, BUT THE LARGER ISSUE — GOOD GOVERNANCE — IS NO LAUGHING MATTER … MORE LIKE A CRYING SHAME
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
Second of Two Parts
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, FEB. 25, 2014) — The background radiation to the fascinating issue of agenda item #9, slated to be taken up at tonight’s city council meeting, is the power play involved.
It was interesting that until THE PLANET ran Part One of this series yesterday, The Boring Broadsheet had no interest in it. By the evidence of their lack of coverage, they didn’t even realize it was an issue and therefore a story. Lo and behold, though! Once again THE PLANET served as The BB‘s assignment editor. They took our story posted early Monday morning and did a lame “follow.” A “follow” is newspaper talk for when a paper gets scooped, caught with its pants down, then tries to save face.
When the city council first dealt with the issue involved in agenda item #9 — that is, Melissa Mazzeo‘s petition as it relates to debate on referral to committee — our factionalized Right Honorable Good Friends fissured along a 7-4 fault line. How it handles the item tonight will reveal much about its present and future, not just on the referral issue but to how power struggles will play out over the next 22 months.
For example, is the fissure a permanent fault line or will it be bridged over by statesmanship, a kind of Podunk version of detente? Which of the councilors, if any, is interested in good governance more than petty politics? These are just a couple of the immediate questions that come to mind.
The 7-4 breakdown, for those keeping score at home, lines up this way:
* The Magnificent Seven — Mazzeo, council president; Chris Connell, VP; Lisa Tully; Kevin Morandi; Tony Simonelli; Churchill Cotton; and Kathy Amuso.
* The Gang of Four — Barry Clairmont, Jonathan Lothrop, John Krol, and Nick Caccamo.
Yesterday, THE PLANET quoted at length from our interview with Mazzeo, in which she shared her rationale for her petition to stop automatic referrals to council committees. Today, we hear from two of the Gang of Four. We present their statements verbatim, except for minor editing to clarify meaning.
“Most of the votes taken at the last meeting were ‘telling,’ not just the one on the referral. As far as I’m concerned, many of the other votes have revealed the factions. I don’t have a problem with factions. They exist in all levels of government. What troubles me is when the faction has greater influence than independent thought when making decisions.
“Some would suggest that myself, Councilor Lothrop, and Councilor Krol are a faction. Granted, we share similar principles and common beliefs about the role of government. At the same time, you may have noticed that we don’t always agree, and we vote against one another on occasion. It happened at the last meeting. Councilors Lothrop and Krol voted against one of my amendments to the $1,000,000 GE appropriation.”
THE PLANET asked Clairmont about the “Charter Objection” mechanism:
“A charter objection is a new procedure established in the new charter under the provisions for the Legislative Branch. On the first occasion that a question on the adoption of a measure is put to the city council, a councilor is permitted to object to the taking of the vote, and then the vote is postponed until the next meeting of the council. A measure is any ordinance, order, or other vote or proceeding which might be adopted by the city council or school committee.
“I exercised a charter objection during the debate on a petition by President Mazzeo that requested a rule change. I did it because I feel so strongly that this proposed rule change is bad for good government. Currently, referrals end debate. President Mazzeo is proposing that referrals to standing committees of the city council be debated. Here are my basic objections:
- Issues are best vetted in committees.
- Referrals to committees allow more time for councilors to gather data so decision making is informed.
- The public has an opportunity to participate in both a committee meeting and then again at the city council on matters that affect them.
- Referrals to committees allow more time for staff to prepare to address concerns and questions that are raised by councilors.
- Referrals to committees do not exclude councilors who do not serve on that committee from participating in either the committee meeting or from making arguments when the item comes back to the city council.
“I am really surprised that President Mazzeo is proposing the rule change. For four years I have listened to her make good arguments for gathering more information, contacting other communities, and researching and issue so that she can make an informed decision. Now, she’s proposing a rule change that has the potential to cut out that process. The absolute worst consequence of this change is the possibility of jamming proposals through without the proper review. Maybe that’s the intention.”
“I believe President Mazzeo is doing the best of her abilities. However, she and Vice President Connell did lose control of the meeting [on Feb. 11]. I trust that President Mazzeo and Vice President Connell will improve. These leadership roles on the council do have important functions for procedure and administering a high-quality meeting. That is the reason I nominated Councilor Lothrop to be president. Council president is not an easy role and it is very helpful to have someone with engrained institutional knowledge, a firm handle on procedure and an ability to think on one’s feet. While you may be interested mostly in the ‘charter objection’ portion of the meeting, there were several instances in this and previous meetings where errors were made on certain procedures. While this is not something that most residents or viewers may notice, in a certain circumstance, this type of mistake can leave a council vote open to legal challenge. Again, I trust the president and vice president will improve.”
THE PLANET also talked to a number of other people who have followed this debate with more than casual interest. They spoke off the record. Here is a sampling of those comments, taken from interviews conducted Z-Agents from THE PLANET’s Secret Squadron.
Z1 — ”Chaos reigned at [the Feb. 11] meeting. The president was unable to control the procedures. Motions weren’t properly made in the correct order, roll call votes that were required didn’t occur (three ordinances required roll call votes and none were taken), and an amendment suggested by staff was never moved by a member of the city prior to calling a vote. Maybe she’s hoping that with so many councilors having to ask for points of order that it will make them look petty and make her look the victim.”
Z2 — “During the recess Connell and Mazzeo asked the solicitor [Kathy Degnan] to give a ruling on whether or not the charter objection was valid. As the solicitor was reading to them, and they heard the part that led them to believe it wasn’t valid, they stopped listening to her and started to converse between themselves. Connell said to Mazzeo something like, ‘So I’m just going to call a vote on this and let it stand.’ While this was going on, Clairmont pointed out to Degnan that she needed to keep reading. Upon doing so, Degnan realized that the charter objection was valid. Upon going back into session, Connell called Degnan to the podium and asked her if the objection was valid. In a round-about way she said yes. However, Connell had already made up his mind that this was going to a vote, ignored the Degnan’s statements, and called for a vote. Clairmont again had to object and tell Connell that Degnan said the objection stands. She agreed. Connell then asked for a vote to table, which wasn’t necessary as the objection automatically tabled the matter. The vote was taken with some councilors voting not to table. Councilor Lothrop had to interject and explain the process to Connell and Mazzeo. What would they have done if the vote to table failed and Councilor Lothrop hadn’t stepped in? At one point everyone was talking at once, including the City Solicitor.”
Z3 — “The irony for me is that Mazzeo wants to make a rule change but seems to have trouble managing under the rules that exist. It’s going to get worse.”
Z4 — “There were so many procedural errors. Votes taken when they should not have been, votes not taken when they should have, and voice votes when the approval requires a roll call. All of that pales In comparison to when Mazzeo stepped down to try and change the rules to allow a matter to be debated before a referral to a standing committee.”
Z5 — “Connell took ‘The Big Chair’ and did not even understand the very basics of what was going on. He did not know procedure. He could not follow Degnan’s opinion on the Charter Objection raised by Clairmont. The Charter Objection’s purpose is to stop all debate. The point is that there is no option. Once a Charter Objection is allowed, all debate stops and no vote can be taken. Connell wanted to vote to table it, which is completely the opposite of what needs to happen. Taking a vote implies that there is an option to table or not to table. The Charter Objection leaves no such option. Take your pick: was Connell befuddled or clueless.”
Z6 — “The best analogy I could come up with is imagine grading your students papers for grammar and punctuation, only to have the students be mad when you point out their error instead of taking the lesson of here’s how you do it right. It’s like the class elected the teacher from among their peers and the winner was a below average student who wanted everything “her way.”
If this keeps up, city council meetings will rate right up there with The Blacklist, Scandal, and Dancing with the Stars.
“Is you is or is you ain’t my baby” — The Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.