Up next. No cell phone cameras at Wilkes-Barre City Council’s “limited designated public forum.”
Huh, you ask? I know, we used to consider them public council meetings. First concerned citizens could tell those they elected to office what’s on their minds, then the council would conduct its official business.
But on Thursday, we learned that “council meeting” is simply a euphemism for ”limited designated public forum,” which apparently limits free speech, especially from the likes of Bob Kadluboski and Frank Sorick, who heads the Wilkes-Barre City Taxpayers Association. City Clerk Jim Ryan came up with that one. He pretty much said that if you want to vent for more than five minutes, go to a park or street corner, which Ryan defined as a “traditional public forum,” which has no time limits.
We heard through the grapevine that the council wanted to give Mark Robbins, who blew the whistle on former city towing contractor Leo Glodzik, two minutes to speak if he signed the roster but decided it probably couldn’t get away with that.
While we do agree that elected bodies, including the Luzerne County Council, should be allowed to put in place some limitations for maintaining control, when the city council does it, it seems more like its stifling its critics.
Some in attendance Thursday night suggested pushing back the start time of the meeting so more people could attend. NO.
How about holding your meetings on Saturday instead of Thursday night so more people could attend? NO.
Council Chairman Bill Barrett found all of this ironic, saying ,”the people that were speaking now, that you just heard, are the very same people who say they don’t have an opportunity to speak.” Now I could be wrong, but I believe they were complaining about having to sign up in advance, being constrained on their allotted time to speak and having to do so behind a rail (making it harder for the public to throw tomatoes at the council members.)
But Betsy Summers wasn’t amused at such irony. ”Don’t you see what overregulation does? It takes the power away from the people who already feel powerless,” She got that right.
“I can’t imagine not having the right to speak because I have to work,” Ms. Summers complained. She said she arrived at the meeting a little late because she was working in Allentown. Had these proposed new rules already passed, she would have missed the 6 p.m. deadline for warning the council that she had something to say. Wouldn’t you think that if someone cared enough to attend a council meeting after working all day out of town, the council members would want to hear what she had to say?
The Times Leader’s Friday article didn’t say whether city residents must state the nature of their concerns, complaints or praise in advance of being allowed to address their lordships.
The planned new rules moved a step closer to passage on a 4-0 vote Thursday night with Councilman Tony George being excused from attending, the TL reported. The other four might be wishing they too stayed away.
Taxpayer Association leader Sorick snapped their pictures with his cell phone and vowed to put their mugs on a billboard come election time with the caption, “I voted to silence you. Please return the favor this November.” Now, that’s democracy in action. And don’t think he’s kidding. You may have seen city Mayor Tom Leighton gracing an earlier billboard helping himself to city-owned gas.
Why do elected officials sometimes seem to go out of their way to make it difficult to question them and/or obtain information which rightfully belongs to the public?
The much admired activist group Judicial Watch is forced to file Freedom of Information requests galore to learn the public’s business, including what it’s costing us for the Obamas to trot the globe. And what they found out is outstanding. Read my next post on Duchess Michelle’s latest trip to China.
Sometimes you feel that elected officials don’t want us to be informed because when we are, we many times have good reason to complain.
In Wilkes-Barre, you only have five minutes to do so, but you can always scream your head off in Kirby Park, where the squirrels and ducks will listen to you without limitation.
Unlike City Hall’s council chambers, the duck pond there apparently qualifies as a ”traditional public forum” if we’re to believe city Clerk Ryan.