Pin It
Favorite

Lines of Communication 

Limiting the open forum at City Council meetings underlines the need to find new ways to share information with our leaders

Kudos to City Council President Ben Stuckart for taking on what has become an annoyance, an embarrassment and often a launch pad for bloviated obstructionism. I refer to the civic joke we refer to as the "open forum."

click to enlarge herold.jpg

Our ace bloviator, George McGrath, yowls about freedom of speech being denied. Nonsense. Stuckart is correct: No one has the unlimited right to speak at a city council meeting. (In fact, this is why we have sergeants-at-arms.) Call it a tradition, or more accurately, as Stuckart does, a privilege; it isn't a right. If the bloviators want to exercise their freedom of speech, they can walk across the street and stand on a soapbox, as they do in London's famed Hyde Park.

On Monday, the council endorsed Stuckart's proposal to limit the open forum to once a month by a 5-2 vote. A good move, yet the forum's problems actually go way beyond our local gadflies. Yes, our civic life would benefit from a more enlightened electorate and a more informed council, and unfortunately our forum serves neither purpose.

Consider just one example: the three-minute rule. It makes no sense. Some people actually have something of importance to say, and they might need more than three minutes to say it. Instead, they get cut off. Nor is there any time for dialogue between speakers and members of the council. So what's the point?

I envision a complete overhaul. My suggestion:

1. The council holds no more than two open forums per month, similar to Stuckart's proposal, and perhaps modified to impose a total-minute rule.

2. Once a month, the council holds a formal hearing wherein they call specific people to testify. Hearings, after all, are the stuff of the legislative processes at the state and national levels, so why not, on a limited basis, at the local level?

Think of the many topics that might be fleshed out through formal hearings, such as questions surrounding the future of zoning. How many people actually understand how "form-based zoning" differs from what we have traditionally used? Of course, there are issues focusing on law enforcement, urban growth, the condition of the aquifer and the state of the local economy (which we don't understand very well). The possibilities are endless.

One critical caveat: PowerPoint must be prohibited. PowerPoint is a conversation killer. Photos are fine; drawings, OK. But PowerPoint? I don't want to see it ever again. I know that this new rule might disorient some staff, who have gotten used to regurgitating what amounts to glitzy outlines.

If we truly do seek to inform the council and enlighten the citizenry while providing a forum for those whose opinions the council might benefit from, then I suggest that formal hearings could certainly help — they could instruct, lend transparency and better define our councilmembers.

Ideally, hearings would include bringing in outside experts. During the '90s, the EWU Summer Session Symposium Series that I directed brought to town any number of highly regarded writers, architects, policy analysts, developers, former mayors, traffic engineers and the like. Our topics ranged from education to downtown revitalization to salmon recovery to issues of the day, such as the proposed Lincoln Street Bridge.

To address that very controversial issue, we sought out a traffic engineer who could bring a fresh perspective to the bear on the subject. Local preservationist Ron Wells put us onto Walter Kulash, a "New Urbanist" from Florida. We brought Kulash to Spokane, and by the time he left, he had, as Wells has said many times, "changed the debate over the Lincoln Street Bridge."

I suggest that we need more of this — especially if we want a council that isn't held hostage to old, entrenched, insular ways of thinking about public policy. We don't want staff excluded — indeed, staff would be vital — but we want the council free from insular perspectives.

Today, however, we have no format through which to better enlighten the public or inform the council. Our current open forum, even as improved by the Stuckart rule, too often provides us with little more than comic relief.

But, yes, one step at a time. For now, supporting the ideas put forth by Ben Stuckart provide us a good start. ♦

Tags: ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Comment

  • Puppy Love
  • Puppy Love

    Burned out by politics? Winston and his kind can help
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • What Now?
  • What Now?

    How a career change forced me to reevaluate fatherhood
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • Felonious Judgment
  • Felonious Judgment

    A community of hope and restoration can be ours with fair chance hiring
    • Jun 23, 2016
  • More »

Latest in Comment

  • Clinton In Command
  • Clinton In Command

    While Obama and Trump may believe that American global leadership is over, Hillary Clinton sees things differently
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • Debate Decorum
  • Debate Decorum

    Trail Mix: Trump's weighty attacks and Inslee/Bryant showdown
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • Building on the Past
  • Building on the Past

    With dynamic new leadership, Coeur d'Alene is starting to make the dream of a high-tech economy come to life
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Spokane Chiefs Home Opener

Spokane Chiefs Home Opener @ Spokane Arena

Sat., Oct. 1, 7:05 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Robert Herold

  • Transparent Motives
  • Transparent Motives

    One candidate's an open book; the other is shrouded in secrecy. Guess which one isn't transparent enough
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Mad as Hell
  • Mad as Hell

    The economy's ups and downs have created profound dislocations, but yelling won't fix anything
    • Aug 18, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


BRIEFS


trail mix


green zone


marijuana


Readers also liked…

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation