Friday, May 3, 2013

Workshop Meeting, Part 1: A Shout Out to Belle Isle Residents and Mayor Brooks

There was an amazing resident turnout at Wednesday's meeting. Not an angry mob, like the crowd at the fateful March 5 fire department meeting, but a large group of interested residents wanting to learn about our City's upcoming plans and projects. Just about every seat in the room was filled. So here's to all those residents who took the time to attend. I believe everyone in Belle Isle thanks you for your dedication.

I would also like to thank Mayor William Brooks for some small, but important, things he did at the meeting to demonstrate City Hall's increasing respect for residents' financial concerns and interest in government transparency.

For example, when the representative from Hahn & Hahn spoke about the Belle Isle "Gateway" project, it was apparent that she had come to the meeting prepared to make a presentation about her company's grandiose plans to help City Hall create a "branding" for Belle Isle. The plans commissioned by City Hall include building elaborate new entranceways, signs, landscaping, hardscaping and lighting throughout the City. However, Mayor Brooks made a specific point to ask the presenter what could be done to create "branding" for our City on a more limited budget.

With regard to transparency, Mayor Brooks also showed that City Hall is getting serious about addressing this problem. Although resident comments are typically not permitted at workshop meetings, the Mayor made a specific point to allow resident comments at this month's workshop. I'm not sure if this signals a shift in Council policy, but I'm hoping that they will again welcome resident comments at next month's workshop,. Since many of the City's plans are created and refined at workshop meetings, this is exactly the time when public input could do the most good.

Additionally, the Mayor spoke adamantly in favor of transparency. He said that transparency is an issue the City needs to address "right now," although the Council did not address any specific suggestions as to how it could be increased.

I previously proposed one suggestion for increasing transparency: creation of a City web page that lists all major upcoming projects, including access to studies and other relevant documents. Now I'd like to propose a second suggestion: allowing residents to ask questions of their City officials at public meetings.

Although I regularly hear from City officials that residents "should have just asked" about something, there is no public forum for residents to ask their questions. The Mayor has previously stated at Council meetings that public questioning from residents is not permitted. Perhaps now he is willing to consider loosening that restriction.

It is vitally important that residents be allowed to publicly ask questions of their representatives at Council meetings. Private meetings with one or two residents at a time are inefficient as well as intimidating for many residents. Allowing questions at Council meetings permits residents to ask their questions while surrounded by friends and neighbors. It also ensures that no one is misheard or misquoted.

Furthermore, allowing resident questions during public meetings - including during the question and answer portion of any presentations made to the Council - would go a long way towards ensuring that residents get to have meaningful input on City decisions. It is also a great way to draw upon the vast knowledge of our City's residents to help evaluate and vet potential projects before the City commits our tax dollars.

Please write me with your ideas for increasing City transparency so that I can compile a list of everyone's recommendations. Then we can schedule a time to meet with City officials to discuss implementation of your ideas.

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