Tuesday, January 28, 2014 was the regular city council meeting…and I had choices, so many choices. Go to a Coyotes game vs. the LA Kings, watch the President’s State of the Union speech or watch the Glendale city council meeting. Hands down, no doubt about my choice. I chose to go to the game and what a game it was! It was the Coyotes of old. They played with consistency, passion and fire. They couldn’t help but win, 3-0, with that kind of play. It reminded me of the very first games I attended several years ago. I hope the Coyotes are back.
The council meeting had two hot topics: the purchase of a fire truck and the move to move public comment to the end of the meeting and limit speech from 5 minutes to 3 minutes.
The fire truck issue arose when Andy Evans, an attorney for Frank Leonard, owner of the country’s second largest vendor, spoke during Public Comment. Both gentlemen alleged that the city’s procurement process was flawed and that different specifications were provided to different vendors. The budget for the new fire truck was $425K yet the final purchase rose to $486K. Hmmm…something is rotten in Denmark. Did fire make sure a crony received the contract? City Manager Brenda Fischer pulled the item from the agenda and said she had questions. Based upon the information provided to her she would either bring the item back or start over. As City Manager she should have had information about this item and should have been prepared to share it with council. At the very least she should have received the necessary information through a Fire Department Memorandum. Who is in charge?
The item that drew extensive comment was item #11 which would change the public comment to the end of the meeting and limit speaking time. The usual suspects spoke against the proposal: Ken Jones, Gary Livingston and the Marwicks. What was truly eye popping was Andrew Marwick’s attempt to explain why they reside in Phoenix yet speak at Glendale council meetings. Marwick’s premise was he had once lived in a city similar to Glendale with the same kinds of issues and that he was merely sharing the benefit of his knowledge from that previous situation with Glendale. His attempt to explain himself resulted in a rambling dissertation which was brought back to earth by the Mayor’s and the City Attorney’s admonishment to speak to the agenda item. If nothing else and I assure you there is nothing else…the Marwicks have a lot of chutzpah.
Whether Public Comment is at the start or at the end of the Council meeting is not a critical issue. Glendale has always invited public comment and televised it as well. Council has always listened respectfully to citizen comment…some more respectfully than others. The former Mayor Scruggs would roll her eyes and purse her lips, virtually sneer, when she disliked or disagreed with the comments being offered.
What should be of concern is this council’s move to limit free speech by cutting public comment from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. Not everyone is a polished speaker and should be allowed the time some need to get to their point. The only occasions when speaker time has ever been an issue in the past were related to discussions of Coyotes’ ownership deals over the years. The truncating of speaker time to 2 or 3 minutes made sense on those occasions especially when the comments were repetitious. Mayor Weiers made a good point when he said the mike and TV were very powerful…and they are. They provide citizens with an opportunity to gain a wider audience for their point of view.
Councilmembers Knaack, Martinez and Sherwood all expressed the general opinion that they were not taking anything away from the right to public comment while ignoring the fact that they were indeed LIMITING free speech. Weiers and Alvarez defended the current practice. Weiers said he would give speakers 10 minutes each if he could and Alvarez said there was a sense of a “power play” taking place. Councilmembers Hugh and Chavira were silent on the issue. The votes were done by roll call at the request of the Mayor. Councilmembers Sherwood, Knaack, Martinez and Chavira voted for moving public comment to the end of the meeting and limiting speech to 3 minutes. Mayor Weiers and Councilmembers Hugh and Alvarez voted to keep the practice. It is very difficult to put the genie back in the box after it has been freed. The four councilmembers who voted to do so, Sherwood, Knaack, Martinez and Chavira, could find that this move comes back to bite them. However, with Martinez’ and Knaack’s retirement, it may only be an election issue for Sherwood and Chavira.
Item #21 was the affirmation of Vice Mayor Knaack to continue for another year as Vice Mayor. As expected Alvarez was the only “no” vote.
During the Council Comments which occurs at the end of the meeting Vice Mayor Knaack used her opportunity to try to rationalize her public comment about the sales tax increase when she said that the sunset provision was adopted to “make it more palatable to residents.” It demonstrates a very cynical attitude. I was the councilmember who offered and succeeded in getting the sunset provision adopted because I fully anticipated that council would adopt budgetary cuts in expenses every year leading up to the sunset. A budgetary cut plan was proposed by former Interim City Manager Horatio Skeete and I expected council to follow through. If council had followed through as proposed, by reducing the budget by several million dollars each and every year, this council would not be taking such radical steps this year. If some councilmembers such as Knaack accepted the sunset provision to make it more palatable to voters they might have been better served to voice their concerns about the provision at the time. Instead it was accepted with nary a comment. This is a major issue and council’s decision to make the sales tax increase permanent by removing the sunset clause with a simple council vote and their intent to raise the sales tax increase is a not right. It is a major violation of public trust.
Last up was Mayor Weiers who admitted that he had not done a good job working with his peers, councilmembers. He said he was working to rectify the situation by meeting with them one on one to find ways to help them to succeed. Good for him. It’s a practice long overdue. God knows it was never an agenda item for former Mayor Scruggs who believed in keeping all power to herself.
Reminder the next City Council Budget workshop is Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 9 AM to be followed with a regular council workshop at 1:30 PM on the same day.
My informal poll to the right of this column becomes even more relevant as council continues to shape next Fiscal Year’s budget. Also take the opportunity to sign up for email notices of upcoming additions to my blog. It is to the right of this column.
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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