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“Litigiousness” February 25, 2014

Posted by deshon in Musings.
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Sounds a bit like an invented word former President George W. Bush might have used. That’s the one term I might use to describe my experience of our society today as I sat, and sat, and sat at last night’s Newark City Council meeting.

NBC_bannerLast night I went to represent the Newark Bicycle Committee, the drafting body of the Newark Bike Plan, which was one of the agenda items up for review, comment, and adoption by the council. Having not attended a council meeting in a year or two for any reason, it soon became quite clear that times had changed. What I knew going in was that it was item 4 on the agenda and that I was prepared to speak in favor of its adoption if necessary. What I didn’t realize until a little into the meeting was that this would be a great exercise in patience, something of which Jo Anne (my wife) continually says I’m in short supply.

When I arrived, there were many citizens buzzing around in a hornet’s nest of anticipation. I surmised they might all be there to give public comment about what is a controversial plan to build a mega-large, megawatt power plant to power a proposed data center on the University of Delaware’s STAR campus. Indeed, some were there for that very purpose.

The meeting began innocently enough, with a photo op with the mayor and a retiring public servant, in recognition for his years on city staff. It quickly turned rather circus-like, kind of a “democracy on steroids,” in my humble opinion. (Thank God we still say the Pledge of Allegiance at City Council meetings and we’re still “one nation, under God, indivisible,” because it would be hard to tell, given the direction we’ve headed in our country’s public sphere in recent years.)

Having time for public comment at these meetings is great and a necessary component to open government. However, what I witnessed last night made me come up with another potential Bushian term to describe the local political scene lately—“watchdogism.” Though I really value the fact that there are caring citizens who are intent on holding our public officials accountable for their decisions, the overuse of everyone’s time to make one public comment after another, no matter what the subject, will likely make me reticent to attend a future council meeting.

Everything, from protecting one’s Second Amendment rights—in this case to be able to carry a firearm into chambers during a City Council meeting (obviously to protect an individual from the wackos in the room who think it might be safer for everyone otherwise)—to rehiring a lobbyist who has worked for the city for a number of years, to revisiting the very rules for decorum in City Council meetings, became fodder for public comment.

Several individuals came to the mic multiple times, each time, of course, having something of extremely important value to get off his/her chest within the three-minute time limit allotted them under current council procedure. Why, even the three-minute limit was commented on by a citizen who was in front of the mic for perhaps the sixth time during the meeting, asking if the time limit could be extended to five minutes, as it had been in years past. Really.

So, I continued to sit, and sit, and sit, waiting for item 4 on the agenda to be addressed. To make a long story short (well, actually, to try to wrap what may have become for you, the reader, an annoyingly long way to describe a tediously longer meeting), the council adopted the Newark Bike Plan at 11:13 p.m., without much more than a couple clarifying questions from a couple council members.

Yes, it was “past [my] bedtime,” as one of my bike committee colleagues, who was presenting the report, told the council, acknowledging me as chair of the Newark Bicycle Committee. And, lo and behold, no public comment. Nada. Not a single peep from the hearty few who had remained in the audience.

My remaining thoughts at that time were as follows:

1. I’m outta here! (Though I had come prepared to defend the plan, I confess I was way too tired at that point to have put together a coherent thought and eschewed wasting anyone else’s time.)

2. I wish I had guessed that this would have happened and shown up a couple, maybe even three, hours after the 7 p.m. start time.

and, most importantly,

3. I have such great respect for our current council members for bearing their responsibility to patiently and politely listen, absorbing a lot of generally directed criticism while forthrightly and sincerely dealing with minutiae that might make some lawyers cringe (and most others salivate). Though inside they may be seething, their decorum to a person was nothing short of commendable…even when forced to talk about what we should all expect as proper decorum from everyone involved in public meetings.

Oh, by the way, there were nine items on last night’s agenda, but I only stayed the four hours and 13 minutes it took to get through the first four. Lack of patience, I guess.

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