The publics’ right to speak and be heard is not unlimited, and can sometimes conflict with the citizens’ right to conduct city business unimpeded and unintimidated. I have seen some appalling crowd behavior at BOA meetings where the main purpose should be to conduct city business. The Mayor, as the presiding officer over these meetings, must walk a fine line by allowing sufficient speech, yet maintaining control and stopping intimidation and bullying. Since I have been in office, the same few individuals are often the ones that show up and combine forces to try to coerce the Mayor and Alderman into favoring their personal positions. This fits the description of a special interest group, which is “a group of people or an organization seeking to receive special advantages.”
During the recent discussions of the proposed Guesthouse Ordinance, I counted 11 different people who spoke 50 times and spoke for about four hours. There were 13 different lodging establishments represented by these speakers from a total of 131 licensed venues. By talking three or four times and misbehaving, this group made itself appear to be larger and more important than it actually was. This is a special interest group.
The City BOA meeting is not a forum for unlimited and boisterous discussion of opinions and criticisms. State and Federal rules allow the Mayor to control the meeting and also give him/her the discretion to cut off debate, table, re-order discussions or even have people ejected from a meeting, if warranted. I urge the next mayor and BOA to be very active in the control of special interest groups and in the maintenance of business-like conditions during BOA meetings. The next mayor certainly will be challenged by these groups. I believe the same advice was given by our first U.S. President when he left office. He also warned about political parties, as he considered them special interest groups.
What is the proper way for these groups or anyone else to make comments, grievances or complaints to the BOA? To make a comment on a non-agenda item, simply fill out a comment card before the meeting and turn it in to the City Clerk. For discussion or complaints you should contact the city clerk three business days ahead of the next BOA meeting and request to be allowed “agenda time.” You must also provide a written description of your comments or concerns at that time so that the Aldermen may familiarize themselves with information to better discuss them. You will be given whatever time is necessary to bring up and discuss your viewpoints.
It is unreasonable for all the citizens to personally attend every BOA meeting in order to be represented. Their elected officials are put in place to do that for them. That is how our system works. It is each alderman’s duty and responsibility to balance the viewpoints of special interest groups with the best interests of the city’s citizens. I learn what citizens want through the Mayors Action Line, walking around town every Friday morning, holding coffee with the Mayor sessions and attending as many city and civic organization meetings as possible. Everyone should pass their opinions on to their Aldermen or the Mayor. I hope and believe that the Aldermen will not substitute the personal desires of small special interest groups over the best interests of all our citizens.