To the Editor,
It is no secret that often is the time when members of the public feel as though when they are testifying on ordinances, committee hearings or budget hearings, that the city council …
To the Editor,
It is no secret that often is the time when members of the public feel as though when they are testifying on ordinances, committee hearings or budget hearings, that the city council just is not listening. Coupled with the fact that in recent years there has been a pronounced pattern of ordinance changes and charter changes that specifically target the residents ability to speak in public, there is no question that the taxpayers are frustrated.
We have often seen members of the public get chastised and gaveled down when having a quiet side conversation in the audience, in fact, this happened at the last council meeting on March 21. However, there seems to be a double standard when it comes to showing courtesy to someone who is speaking at the mic. Lately we have seen numerous incidents where council members are on their phones texting or on their laptops while the public is speaking. This should not be allowed as it sends a poor message. We have had incidents where members of the council have made vulgar statements on a live mic aimed at members of the public when they have approached the mic. But on the 21st of March an example of such blatant ignorance took place that should alarm all taxpayers.
During the public questioning of the ordinance committee, a handicapped senior citizen woman approached the mic assisted by a gentleman and began to speak on the ordinance. During the entire length of her comments, Council President McAllister was engaged at his desk with the council solicitor having an extensive side conversation, laughing at some points, and never once looking at the woman speaking, and paying no attention to her whatsoever. At the same time, Councilman Howe was seen texting and typing on his computer, also never looking up and making any eye contact with the woman that was speaking. This can all be seen on the YouTube recording of the council meeting. The incident begins at the 3:31:50 time mark.
The woman, who identified herself as Barbara Walsh, was soft spoken and articulate and made logical points. Unfortunately, the manner which certain council members comported themselves is reflective on the entire body, which they (the council members) commonly refer to as “this honorable body”. On March 21st it was anything but honorable. This behavior sends a clear message to the taxpayers that we just don’t care what you have to say. It is obvious, it happens regularly, it has gotten worse in the last year, and the council body language would suggest that it will continue.
I believe that an ordinance should be put forth that prevents any cell phone usage by council members during a council meeting. The ordinance should also indicate that all laptops should be closed during the public comment segments of the meeting. I also believe that language of Rule 41 should be revisited. The language states that during the public comment period, “council members will not respond to the public comments”. This protects the council members from being questioned on any matter that has come before the council. It is abundantly evident that council members are pushing through legislation that they haven’t even read. When their knowledge of the matter is questioned, they refuse to answer, and you get gaveled down.
I often have wondered why the council chambers are pretty much empty even when very important issues are at hand. Now I understand. People refuse to waste their time on people who just don’t listen. Given the historical track record of the Warwick City Council, coupled with our current financial standing, it would behoove the council to start to listen to the public, as most times, the public has done the homework that the council has not.
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