July 12, 2011 Leave a comment
At Monday night’s meeting of the Sunnyside City Council, a question came up about discussions that take place at meetings of Council Subcommittees. Paul Garcia and Theresa Hancock expressed support of restricting these Subcommittee meetings to only discussing items that have been previously approved by the whole council. Hancock went so far as to suggest that if a Council Member asked a question during one of these meetings, that had not previously been voted on and approved by the entire Council, then it would not be open and transparent.
Admittedly, the logic of this escapes me. The proposed item, as interpreted by Hancock, would mean that only questions vetted in advance at regular council meetings could be asked. Garcia said that he did not see stifling the speech of individual Council Members as being “draconian.” In fact, he said that this would make sure that the entire council would be “informed” of what the Subcommittee was doing.
Mr. Beyers, representing the city’s contracted legal firm, said that having the committees discuss items brought up at regular meetings of the whole council was just one way to handle discussion items. He did not see the language as precluding Council Members from asking questions and bringing up other issues for discussion at their Subcommittee meetings. However, he said that the item was written by Mayor Restucci, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, and therefore unable to explain his intent.
It would seem pointless to me to have a meeting where all the questions and items must be discussed and vetted at a previous meeting. If members of the council are to interact with staff, they should do so without being muzzled. In fact, it seems like this would violate freedom of speech for both Council Members and City staff.
There is no issue of transparency here. The Subcommittees already make reports to Council at every meeting. The Subcommittee meetings themselves are open to the public, and minutes are kept. The Subcommittees only have discussion, and all action items are taken up by the whole council. What possible danger do Hancock and Garcia see in having informed Council Members?
By the way, at Hancock’s request, she does not participate in any of the Subcommittees set up by the council. If she is so concerned about what the Subcommittees are discussing, perhaps she should join her colleagues and become part of the process.
Council Members and staff need to be able to share information without a Hancock-Garcia approved script. Contrary to what Ms. Hancock suggests, to do otherwise would be fake, and dishonest.
Here is the proposed item that was discussed: