Good morning, class. Welcome to our online seminar in applied civics. We are waiving the normal fee, but all participants are required to stay until the end of today's lesson. Potential candidates for New Albany's City Council are invited to audit the class. Take notes. Pay attention. You will be tested.
City Council met in executive session one hour before the scheduled public meeting, presumably to discuss the city's current litigation/settlement options in relation to the pending lawsuit in Federal District Court pitting the city against the First, Fourth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth amendments, otherwise known as City of New Albany vs. New Albany DVD
It can be surmised that public business was also discussed (in violation of Indiana's open government statutes) as the council president, after calling the night's public meeting to order, announced that the council had decided to defer approval of the minutes of each of the last two meetings. Unless they are telepathic, they must have agreed to do that before
the public session.
At 7:15, the council opened a public hearing on four matters, in accordance with legal requirements. Public comment was invited on three appropriations and a zoning matter. Greg Roberts, representing the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, urged the council to approve an appropriation to purchase 2 garbage packers. One council member questioned Greg, asking if the choice came down to funding the packers (an agenda item) or funding the code enforcement/paralegal (not an agenda item), which would he prefer. Greg replied, without hesitation, "code enforcement."
After a perfunctory and less-than-reverent recitation of the Lord's prayer and pledge to the flag, CM Jeff Gahan announced the curious agreement to defer approval of the minutes and proceeded directly to the public communications portion of the evening.
Mass Communications 101
Valla Ann Bolovschak, beleaguered watchdog and confidant/patronage nominee of at least one CM, took to the lectern first to scold CM Gahan for meeting with the management of WNAS, the broadcast outlet for Valla Ann's videotaped presentations of council meetings. This observer admits to being somewhat confused by a discussion of the technical issues that befell the most recent cablecasts. For a moment, I thought we were going to hear about a Watergate-style covert operation to fuzz the tape. Alas, it all appears to have been an innocent technical glitch.
At the conclusion of Ms. Bolovschak's comments, she invited questions and CM Larry Kochert obliged, questioning why CM Gahan would be meeting with WNAS, the New Albany High School television station. Valla Ann then took up the interrogation of the council president, apparently receiving the answers she desired.
Soon enough, we got to the heart of the matter. Ms. B (or Viola, as CM Dan Coffey calls her) is tired of carrying the financial burden of hiring a professional videographer to tape all the council meetings and wants the financially strapped city to underwrite those expenses.
A small contretemps erupted when CM Beverly Crump objected to the implication that non-taped meetings lacked integrity, but peace was quickly restored.
Public Relations 100
This blogger, who has previously contended that the council is under no obligation to entertain oral presentations, submitted a petition to the council president that invited all members of the council to attend the March 2 Public Affairs Symposium, "New Visions for Downtown New Albany." City Clerk Marcey Wisman read the invitation into the meeting record.
Recognizing the time pressures faced by members of the council, fellow blogger The New Albanian shared with council a summary of the discussions on NA Confidential
over the past few weeks.
Among the highlights was his report that the consensus on the site supported the city abandoning its costly efforts to stop the opening of New Albany DVD.
The New Albanian has repeatedly called for the mayor and council to institute some forum for communication between citizens and their elected representatives* and reiterated that call during the public communications portion of Tuesday's City Council meeting.
*(NOTE: Henceforth, the default description will be representatives, not leaders; the faculty committee on semantics will continue to debate the legitimacy of the new terminology and will release its interim report shortly on whether to retain the term representatives or to downgrade the title to officeholder or occupants of office.)
Apparently, CM Coffey confused The New Albanian's grayish ballcap for my own pale forehead and began to berate our favorite pubmeister for the format of the 7 p.m. public affairs symposium being held at Destinations Booksellers
on March 2.
Announcing that he "doesn't read (Roger's) blog" and wielding a thick envelope for effect (who knows what was in it?), Coffey asserted that he previously had every intention of attending the symposium until he discovered that he would not be allowed to speak. Gosh, the only place we've announced it is in the store and on a BLOG!
For the record, Mr. Baylor's involvement with the March 2 forum is expected to be limited to muscling a few bookshelves and pointing attendees to the necessary room in the event of emergencies. This symposium was in the works before I ever met The New Albanian. That he and his online Web log are helping to publicize it and supporting its objective of creating a community conversation about saving downtown does not make him responsible for its format.
Then it really got interesting. Among other things, this was the civics lesson of the night, courtesy of CM Coffey:
Point 1: He contended the "we" are the ones who know what can be done, what's legal, and what money is available. Presumably, he meant the council, but I can't be sure.
Point 2: He said he doesn't read blogs and that he "figures anyone can hide behind a keyboard."
Point 3: By Coffey's lights, if you want to criticize, question, or otherwise participate in the public discussion of civic affairs, you must run for office (and presumably win). Otherwise, shut the hell up.
Point 4: In all fairness, Danny C. claimed to have held six town halls during his current term, but undermined his claim by then disinviting anyone who doesn't live in his district.
The New Albanian, after a procedural question directed to the council president, simply smiled genuinely and said of his blog, "I think you should read it." As Roger returned to his seat, Coffey couldn't resist calling out, while patting his thick envelope of mystery documents, "I don't read," at least in the hearing of one observer.
We refer you to The Tribune and City Editor Amany Ali's coverage of a fairly calm business meeting where routine matters were approved and a skittish council, in light of the unsettled cash balance calculations roiling the city, tabled all matters requiring new appropriations. The formerly ailing CM Bill Schmidt provided half a loaf in documenting all the borrowings approved by the council over the past 20 months or so. No information on repayments was provided while the state auditors comb the city's financial activities during the tenures of four
controllers. Suffice it to say that the cops get no cars, the sanitation department gets no trucks, and the joint 911 dispatch office must wait another week-and-a-half for the authority to pay its bills.
Until tomorrow...same time, same site, when we will address the fallacies inherent in Mr. Coffey's ridiculous comments.
Here's a little teaser...who says a symposium on "New Visions for Downtown New Albany" would address government action, anyway? If an elected representative wishes to unequivocally announce his opposition to citizens gathering to discuss matters of concern and interest to them, let him speak now.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.