June 25, 2007

Respecting the taxpayer

The June 20 City Council meeting started at 7:30, but I arrived at 8:30. I attended the meeting to speak to one of the items up for a vote that night. Before that item came up, though, the Mayor's Office was scheduled to give a lengthy report on tax abatements throughout the city of Bloomington. That report did not finish until 9:00.

This is unfortunate, and shows disrespect for the citizens who take time out of their evening to attend a government meeting and speak to a public policy issue. Citizens who decide to participate in local government by publicly lobbying elected officials should not have to wait 90 minutes before the City Council even gets to the first item on the agenda. Unfortunately, these delays are not uncommon.

A better solution would be to put such reports at the end of the meeting, rather than the beginning. This would allow the Council to conduct city business quickly, and people who want to hear the report can stay for it, record it from the television broadcast or request a copy from the Public Library.

When I suggested this in public comment, Councilor Dave Rollo (D-4th) responded that citizens can call the council office and get an estimate of how long it will be before the council gets to items on the agenda for a vote. That is true, but it is not the point. The City Council is the servant of the people, not the other way around. Citizens should not be expect to further change their schedules in addition to the time it takes to attend a government meeting in order to avoid wasting 90 minutes of their time listening to a report on tax abatements.

When the Republicans took control of the Monroe County Council after the 2002 election, they put public comment on items not on the agenda as well as general commentary from County Councilors at the end of the meeting. The GOP took a further step of putting a time limit on comments by members of the County Council. This is a sharp contrast to the Democrat-dominated City Council, where extended commentary by City Councilors on items ranging from Interstate 69 to foreign policy is not uncommon.

The city does many things well, including archiving City Council minutes all the way back to 1994. City Council meetings are far more accessible to the public than meetings of the County Commissioners or County Council, both of which begin during the workday. (County Commissioner meetings start at 9:00 a.m. while County Council meetings start at 4:30 p.m.) The City Council's budget sessions are far more accessible to the public than county government's budget sessions, which are an all-day marathon.

It is only fair to acknowledge that city government is, overall, more open to citizen involvement than county government. That does not mean there is no room for improvement. Quickly moving to items up for a vote is one of the areas where city government can improve. In a city election year, I hope that some of the candidates make this an issue.