How come there were so many opportunities to ask how come this week? For starters: How come Monday’s Council Work Session was made so inconvenient for citizens to observe in person? Was it done purposefully? You decide.
While I was only able to attend the first two and a half hours of what turned out to be an eight and a half hour endurance session, clearly the length of the Work Session is indicative of the importance of and conflict over the current legislation under consideration.
In a nutshell the biggest topics were APFO (the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance-and how it relates to redistricting; mulching and composting regulations with serious consequences for both the west and the east; and repeal of the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) deal for Howard Hughes to develop downtown Columbia now that the previously ‘critical’ parking lot has been eliminated. All of these topics sparked LARGE citizen participation at the legislative hearings and through on-line testimony for months.
So how come the Work Session was scheduled for 3:00 in the afternoon in the C. Vernon Gray Room? The CVG Room has an audience capacity of somewhere around 48, if the chairs are packed in so tightly that once one is in their seat they cannot exit— unless they weigh 99 pounds and work part time as a contortionist. Many of those four dozen seats were occupied by staff and by persons cherry picked to provide input.
Because it took me so long to find a parking space and then to hike uphill to the ground floor entrance of the Banneker building, I had the distinction of being the first person to be turned away due to the room being ‘at capacity’. I wondered how come there were five uniformed policemen in the glass-enclosed lobby outside the CVG Room to stop me and subsequent citizens who had made the trek? How come I was directed to the Banneker Room to watch the work session on a big screen— at first by myself and then shortly thereafter joined by a few others……..accompanied by two of the policemen, presumably to ‘maintain order’ there as well?
The Banneker room, which probably seats 300+, had pre-printed signs attached to the open doors indicating that it was the location for overflow seating for the Work Session. Now if it was believed that the CVG room wouldn’t be adequate to hold an outpouring of citizens interested in observing the session first hand, how come it simply wasn’t scheduled for the Banneker room in the first place???
Had there been actual physical threats or was the Council simply feeling threatened by the recent increase in engagement by the public?
I later gained entrance to the session by bopping back to the hallway outside the glass enclosed lobby and inquiring whether I could enter when the current speaker left. While waiting I overheard one of the thoughtful officers on duty questioning ‘Why on Earth?’ had they been assigned there. He further pondered why, if indeed the public was already upset by the legislation, would the Council further aggravate the public by excluding us from eye to eye (albeit silenced) participation?
Indeed. How come so many County resources were being wasted???– the time and talents of the policemen, staff supporting A-V systems in two locations, and the electricity consumed in lighting and over air-conditioning two rooms rather than one.
How come there was such blatant disregard for citizens’ time and efforts???– making the drive, altering child care routines, altering work schedules, missing family meals, etc. when topics anticipated to be discussed at a certain time were actually discussed many, many hours later? How come discussion of hot button school related concerns were scheduled at precisely the time moms would be getting kids off the bus?
And how come on Tuesday night the County Executive’s quarterly Town Hall held in North Laurel was, for the first time, limited to a single topic: health care? Health care in a County with a burgeoning and aging population and with only a single hospital IS an important topic for the ENTIRE County. Limiting the topic of concern at regionally-held town halls does eliminate other concerns of local importance however. Was this done purposefully?
How come there is such “estrangement” or “disconnect” between those elected to represent us and the actively engaged public? For that matter, how come there is such obvious “estrangement” or “disconnect” between those elected to represent us and their own colleagues? How come so many ‘pending decisions’ seem to actually be anything but pending?
How come the natives are so restless? Could it be that it has become too obvious that sides have already been taken and the usual ‘winners’ will win yet again? Can our well educated population no longer be fooled by manipulated statistics and data? Will the weary old guard of Government Watchers be renewed by the new troops joining the fight?
Are we approaching that ‘tipping point’ I predicted where citizen dissatisfaction over declines in our quality of life can no longer wisely be ignored? Watch and see. Watch and see—even when only allowed to observe.
Be there to look ‘em in the eye when they take their votes—and meet me on the high road,
P.S. Remember that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement!