[Council] View from the Woodshed: A Response to Criticism of the "Infill" Meeting at the Public Library.

RHopkins tribune at mind.net
Fri Jan 20 11:31:12 PST 2006

Dear Mayor and Council,

	An increasingly strident storm of criticism from certain quarters  
has descended upon two publicly spirited members Planning  
Commissioners, Michael Dawkins and John Stromberg.

	What have they done to merit this?

	As I understand, they want invite people to the public library where  
they can listen to the views and opinions of any citizen who wishes  
to express him or herself on the topic of infill development. No one  
is excluded. Anyone, from one end of the infill debate to the other,  
are free to come express themselves. It will be way in which they can  
gather information relevant to their legislative role of the  
Commission. This is not like one of the Commissions' quasi judicial  
hearings, where public input is limited. Commissioners  are  
encouraged to listen to citizens on legislative matters by the very  
Guidelines used to instruct Commissioners as to how to perform their  
duties. And if they are encouraged to listen to citizens they run  
into on the street or get calls from regarding legislative matters,  
then doing it in the Public Library should only make it better, not  

	Mike Reeder of the City Attorney's department has confirmed that  
there is nothing legally wrong with such a public input meeting so  
long as they make it clear they are not acting for or representing  
the City Government, and I have no doubt they will make this  
absolutely clear.

	Of course, there is nothing wrong with what Mr. Dawkins and Mr.  
Stromberg are doing.  They are engaging in the Freedom of Assembly  
and the Freedom of Speech. As well as the freedom to listen. These  
are freedoms that people have died to secure, so it is not like these  
are unimportant concerns.

	In reaction, the City Administrator has expressed his desire that  
the infill discussion be postponed until the City Government is ready  
to listen and then on the Government's terms. With all due respect,  
this strikes me as a pretty condescending way to view the citizenry -  
as if they were children who should only be allowed to speak only  
when guided and controlled by a government bureaucracy. Government  
should be the servants of the people, not its paternalistic master.

	As for the Administrator's concern that citizens, again childlike,  
will suffer 'frustration' if they express opinions and see no  
response. I think the citizens are savvy enough to handle this. To  
paraphrase Rep. John Murtha, I think the citizens are way out in  
front of the Government on this matter. It's not like they don't have  
experience with expressing opinions only to see nothing happen.

	I understand that a member of the City Council has called this  
effort 'divisive.'  Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Stromberg are two of the  
least divisive people I've met in this town. And what is divisive  
about a two citizens listening to anyone who wants to comment on a  
matter of legislative concern important to us all? This 'divisive'  
line is like calling someone who is against the war 'unpatriotic.' It  
is not so much an attempt to promote free speech, as an effort to  
chill it or to control and channel it, perhaps to serve some partisan  

	The worst thing, in my opinion, occurred at the last City Council  
meeting where one gentleman launched a blistering attack on Mr.  
Dawkins and Mr. Stromberg. He called them inexperienced (Mike Dawkins  
has been on the Commission five years), of having a 'personal  
agenda,' and of being infected with 'hubris.' He demanded they resign  
and urged that the Mayor and Council 'take 'em out to the woodshed!'

	I can only imagine how these gentlemen's families felt when they  
heard a public demand that they be 'taken out to the woodshed' and  
punished - for the 'crime' of exercising the freedom of assembly and  
free speech.

	What happened to the Mayor's State of the City warning against  
slipping into a 'climate of criticism which is corrosive to the  
spirit our of community?' Why no condemnations of 'divisiveness?'  
Surely, these standards shouldn't apply only to some people on some  
side of some issues.

	Most of the criticism, and it appears coordinated, is issuing from  
those who, as I understand, are either developers themselves, or  
consultants hired by the larger developers, or their supporters in  
government. They want to get a new law passed which may well benefit  
themselves financially. There is nothing wrong with a group  
petitioning a government or using free speech to urge government to  
adopt policies that will financial benefit themselves - one could  
fairly say it's the 'American way.' But there should not be anything  
wrong with pointing out that this group has a financial interest at  
stake, especially where they make no mention of it themselves, yet  
attack others for having a 'personal agenda.'

	As far as having a monopoly on the holding of public meetings, it  
cannot be said that our own government has a sterling record in this  
regard. The City has, sadly, stumbled from one problem after the  
other regarding the state and local laws of ethics - many such  
ethical problems dealing directly with the holding of public meetings  
that are fair to all concerned.

	So, rather than condemning free public speech and assembly, I urge  
our government to focus its attention on putting its own house in  
order. This will help eliminate any notion that what is really afoot  
here is an attempt to control and channelize public comment, so as to  
direct things to a preordained result that will benefit the few at  
the expense of the many.

	But more than anything, I urge that Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Stromberg be  
treated with the respect they are due for their service to this  
community. They should not be vilified for their willingness to  
listen to the citizenry.

	Randall Hopkins

More information about the Council mailing list