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