For years, conservatives have said that most decisions should be made at the local level. That’s what’s recommended by the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s because that’s where accountability is theoretically greatest.
That’s increasingly not the case. I don’t know if this is isolated but a prime example of local governments shielding themselves from criticism happens when they shut off the cameras. A prime example of this is the St. Cloud City Council turning off the cameras and officially adjourning the meeting before starting Open Forum. For those not familiar with St. Cloud’s Open Forum, it’s a segment of the meeting when citizens have the opportunity to talk about things that they see happening in their neighborhoods.
Most of these speeches complain about overreaching ordinances, complaints about things not getting done fast enough or criticisms about votes that councilmembers have taken. Suffice it to say, it isn’t fun for the councilmembers to hear these criticisms. Another ‘feature’ of St. Cloud’s Open Forum is that the City Council isn’t allowed to respond in real time to their constituents.
Where’s the accountability if the Council isn’t allowed to respond to their constituents? That’s why I’ve titled this post ‘the accountability dodge”. Based on what I’ve seen firsthand, this segment of the meeting isn’t about listening to the citizens. It’s a segment of the meeting where citizens can vent but where the councilmembers don’t have to respond.
This is just a theory but this feels like a way to avoid accountability. It’s apparent that the City Council, with a couple of exceptions (specifically, George Hontos and Paul Brandmire), would rather just meet, then cast their votes, then go their merry way. The quote from yesterday’s post that Councilman Hontos had violated City Council Rule No. 6 was particularly upsetting.
I don’t have the text of St. Cloud City Council Rule No. 6 in front of me but what I know about the Constitution is that anything that violates the First Amendment is unenforceable. Therefore, Rule No. 6 is unenforceable.
Further, I’d argue that voting on a non-binding censure resolution was a total waste of time, partially because it’s non-binding but also because this vote was taken in private session. That’s the ultimate in not accepting accountability. If City Councilmembers think this is important to vote on, they shouldn’t shut down public debate. They should vote in public, though.
That isn’t accountability. That’s the definition of gutlessness.