It’s apparent that the City Council doesn’t value transparency. They talk a good game but their words are empty at best. First, the City Council changed the rules governing the open forum section of the meeting. Instead of letting a maximum of 5 people speak up to 3 minutes each on the topic of their choosing at the end of the meeting, the City Council changed the rules to adjourn the meeting first, then host the open forum after the cameras have been turned off.
Citizens were told that they wanted to do that to protect people who didn’t want to speak in front of the cameras. That’s total BS. That’s been part of the full meeting for years. Those citizens know that they’re being videotaped. From the times that I’ve spoken during that segment, I’ve never seen anyone who looked uncomfortable. Frankly, there aren’t that many people watching the City Council meetings so it isn’t like these citizens have reason to be frightened. That doesn’t mean that the things discussed during this part of the meeting are insignificant. It’s just that the viewing audience was that big.
Next, censuring a person doesn’t mean a thing. It has the impact of a resolution. It’s totally non-binding. Why should city councilpeople get upset when they’re criticized for the votes they’ve made? If you can’t stand the heat, don’t visit the kitchen.
I contacted Councilman Hontos to see if he’d like to make a statement for this post. He graciously accepted the invitation. Here’s his statement, published verbatim and without editing of any sort:
I pride myself as being a respectful, engaged council member who listens.
I am disappointed at the Council’s decision, which says more about it than me.
Providing factual information to the public about the Council’s decisions to the media is not a violation.
A Council is not a corporate board, America is built on the vigorous debate of ideas.
Our City faces many important issues, jobs, housing, diversity. The Council should stay focused on these issues and not distractions.
Furthermore, the first amendment gives everyone the freedom of speech. Just as our Supreme Court makes a ruling usually a dissenting opinion is written and published.
I will continue to represent the constituents of St. Cloud as I have been doing for 18 years. I want to thank all the positive feedback I have received. The people elected me for almost two decades now to ask the hard questions and to tackle tough issues.
Councilman Hontos is right. The Council’s decision says more about them than it says about him. What it says about them isn’t flattering, in my opinion.
Councilman Hontos is also right in stating that “America is built on the vigorous debate of ideas.” The day our elected people can’t stand transparency and vigorous, substantive debate is the day we’d need a major overhaul of our government. Hopefully, that won’t be required. This paragraph frightens me a little:
Conway cited rule No. 6, which states council members “respect the majority vote of the council, and do not undermine or sabotage implementation of ordinances, policies and rules passed by the majority.”
If that’s the total content of Rule # 6, then that rule needs to be eliminated. That sounds more like a speech code for collegiate snowflakes on campus. If one of the councilmembers disagrees with someone, then that councilmember should have the right to express that disagreement in any forum whatsoever. If the council has made a mistake and the individual highlights that mistake, then the individual councilmember has done the city a favor. (Yes, that means that the majority is sometimes wrong.)
If Councilman Hontos runs for re-election, he’ll have my vote. Councilman Hontos is one of 3 at-large councilmembers that represent the entire city. Now that Councilman Johnson has left the Council, the need for someone that “ask[s] the hard questions and … tackle[s] tough issues” is needed now more than ever.
In conclusion, I’ll simply state that it’s my opinion that the only reason for putting in a rule like that is to protect spineless councilmembers. It isn’t to keep confidential information confidential.