HAMILTON: More or Less Public Speaking at City Council Meetings

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By: Ken Hamilton

Sometimes we are just too close to the forest to see the trees. That is to say that after we have looked at a set of problems for so long that the only problem becomes that we begin to no longer see the problem as a problem.

That goes for any and all of us; and it is seemingly very noticeable of late in our City Council Chairperson Andrew Touma.  It really needs to correct itself.

It would seem that the noble councilman has become exactly like the chided bus driver who was finally called upon the carpet for not picking up the passengers that were actually waiting at the bus stops; except in Touma’s case, the passengers are the good ideas from citizens who have more actual subject-matter experience than the chairman’s fresh and biased knowledge that he often regurgitates from his lofty perch on the dais.

Though I have long been uncomfortable with the timed-presentations that the city’s citizens get to express their problem-identifying insights and subsequent solutions – as opposed to the abundant time that some sanded finger-tipped developers get to practice at figuring out the  combination and then working the dial to  open up the city’s coffers — I didn’t notice what Chairman Touma was saying about the five-minute citizen speaking limit until he began to pontificate about how gracious the council was to even allow any time.

To wit, he said, “We give more time than any other government in the area.”

It was then that I began to think of him in the same way that the wayward bus driver’s supervisor obviously thought of the driver: he just doesn’t get it.

When the supervisor began to chastise the driver for not picking up the waiting passengers, the driver angrily retorted, “Well what do you want me to do, pick up passengers or run that #$%^&* bus on time!”

Of the biggest problems that the city councils have had of late is in that most of them have never attended a city council meeting until they are considering a run for a council seat. Upon the very few times that they do attend, by observing what the observed councilmembers do during their meeting, it is easy to understand how any potential candidate easily comes to the conclusion that any fool can do what the council does during their meetings, and then the observers decide to set themselves out to prove themselves right.

Sadly, they are successful in proving themselves to be just slightly worse than their foolish predecessors, but much more much like the degraded printed copy that goes on the copying machine’s glass in order to make a printed copy of a printed copy of a printed copy and so on. Unfortunately, they never come to realization of how they got the city to exactly where they voted it to be.

I started going to council meetings in the early 1980s when people like Anthony Quaranto held the gavel for people like Katherine Golanka, Victoria Fama and others. The committee form of council then met twice before voting on anything; once in the Committee of the Whole ante-chambers to discuss the issues and often allowing the subject-expert citizen to take their time to illuminate them on agenda items, then they’d meet on a subsequent day where they would have their legislative voting meeting.

Even then the council engaged the speakers, bringing them to summation of their well-thought-out points as they “schooled” the council as to what they should or should not be doing.

After all, in side-by-side comparison of the bus driver and his supervisor, the council acts as the bus driver and the citizen should act as the supervisor.

As the years flashed by both the council and the city’s population began to get smaller and smaller — in body count, in pay and in mind – and we now find ourselves where we are. I am waiting for Chairman Touma to accidentally slip up and blurt out, “Well what do you want me to do, pick up good ideas from the citizens or run this #$%^&* meeting on time!”

As former Councilman Bob Anderson often had said while shaking his head, “It’s sad, so sad.”

But what is sad is that we are too close to the forest to see the trees – because the council IS us; and that’s the problem!


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