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Wednesday, August 26,2009

Kids in the Hall

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

by Neal McNamara

This week, the City Council Committee of the Whole was canceled yet again for lacking a quorum. Up for discussion would have been a proposed change to Council rules that included taking the general public comment section of the meeting off of television and moving it to the end of the meeting. The rules change was formed in the Council General Services Committee, composed of Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Kaltenbach, President Derrick Quinney and Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson, and has been Robinson’s baby.


Kaltenbach, the committee chairman, had brought the rules changes to the floor of the Aug. 10 Council meeting with the intent to have it voted on at the next meeting on Aug. 17. However, it was deemed more discussion was needed, so it was sent to the Committee of the Whole, which, we established above, was not held last week.


Again, the thing was brought up Monday night, but was removed from the agenda during the meeting because, Kaltenbach said, it needed to be discussed at Committee of the Whole.



So, is there a bit of  trepidation over changing these rules, which would probably anger some people who regularly come to speak during public comment? (Lord knows, there were plenty of outcries Monday night over the proposed changes.)


Well, Robinson says the rules changes need to be discussed in a meeting by the entire Council, not just the three on General Services.

“Everyone needs to feel comfortable,” she said.


Robinson said that she even wants a few tweaks to the rules, like allowing for a forum at the beginning of the meeting for people to make community announcements. She also said she might want a place for social networking technology — like Twitter or Facebook — to be brought into Council meetings. As for the most controversial part — the moving of general public comment on "city government related matters" — she says she received a lot of support for that during her town hall-like “Second Saturday” meetings in the Third Ward.


Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen said that she’s concerned — and this speaks to Robinson’s concern — that the General Service Committee has ultimate control over the rules.

Plus, she opposes shutting off the television during public comment, but not the moving of public comment to the end of the meeting.

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, Quinney and Kaltenbach favor it as it stands. Dunbar said that she already supported moving public comment to the end of the meeting, but didn’t consider — because she didn’t think it would fly — turning off the TV cameras.

Robinson and others have said that these moves are in the interest of expediting Council meetings. Another change would allow for a consent agenda, which would essentially allow everything that needs to be voted on to be done with one vote, and Council could still pull items from the consent agenda if further discussion was needed.

Also at Monday’s meeting was the presentation of the city “employee of the year” award, which was given to the Finance Department’s Katrina Urista and delivered by Finance Director Jerry Ambrose. However, this was the second time Urista was given the award — she also got it at the city employees’ picnic last Thursday at Frances Park. We received a call from a city employee that Mayor Virg Bernero was not present at the event, which apparently upset some city employees. Urista, however, said that she was not upset that the mayor was a no-show. She said that she “sees the mayor so much” anyway, and that the two have a meeting set up for this week.


A search for the mayor at City Hall Monday night to get comment turned up nothing (he was not at the City Council meeting, or in his office), but according to his Twitter page, he was away last Thursday delivering his youngest daughter to college. His spokesman, Randy Hannan, said that the mayor has made the event every other year and that it was explained on Thursday that the mayor was not in attendance due to a family commitment.



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