Council demeanor damaged public process |

Council demeanor damaged public process

Dear Editor:

The considerable controversy over the events of the June 10 work session exposed grievous governance concerns. However, your decision of the 10th to webcast future meetings, hopefully including work sessions, should be acknowledged as a progressive step. Some concerns:

Future civic engagement by private citizens was discouraged. Council showed disrespect for the time and interest of the citizens who were present to engage on the agenda topics. They did not attend to squander their time witnessing the public flogging of another citizen.

Inaccurate excuses made by council for the angry response to taping. Inaccurate statements made by Mayor Ireland that “Council did not know that there would be cameras there,” when council had been keenly aware of plans to underwrite the taping if council did not choose to arrange it. Mr. Ireland and Mr. Johnson were also informed in advance in person by GrassRoots. This arrangement was consistent with past practice of privately underwriting filming of work sessions of wide interest, while awaiting your multi-month decision on filming work sessions, although Mayor Ireland declared it a sudden policy change requiring formal noticing and budgeting.

Those seeking to record were intimated and relationships compromised. Intimidation of the camera crew, who, out of fear of council’s wrath, did not film the meeting from the beginning, deserves reflection. That was a sad day for Aspen when fear shut down cameras, failing to capture a truly unattractive, but crucial portion of a public meeting. The lack of independence of GrassRoots for unfettered access is troubling. This should never happen again. This represented a disquieting compromise of the intended arm’s length relationship between GrassRoots and the city.

Intimidation of the public, and discouraging public comment. Council demeanor and lack of proper decorum damaged the democratic process for years to come. Public process should not be only for those with “nothing to lose.” A number of citizens came with notes to speak to the Burlingame ballot issue, and left in frustration, having said nothing, due to their understandable fear of speaking out after the tirade.

Loss of more confidence in the fundamental trust in our local government, at a critical time when trust must be rebuilt.

Decreased transparency in government. On June 9, Councilman DeVilbiss respectfully challenged my views that taping and broadcast of work sessions increased transparency and allowed me to respond. If ever the point were proven, it was 24 hours later, when the meeting went completely off agenda, and many outrageous, inaccurate and intimidating statements were made by council members in what Councilman Romero called the “low point” for this council’s work, unfortunately, never to be seen by most citizens. This decision decreased transparency, and with it, public process. The public should witness the lack of decorum by council. Your many months of deliberation on recording work sessions, still with no conclusion, is quite understandable now. Much of the public does not know that no clerk is present during work sessions and there are no minutes taken. Without electronic taping, there is little public record and access to your important deliberations.

These are but a few of the fundamental issues of civic engagement, democracy and public process at play that evening. Others can be discussed at another time. But in closing, I ask you to consider the words of a wise judge in a challenge to videotaping public meetings in New Jersey, which begins with a quote from Patrick Henry: “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them”.

Commentary on his opinion continues, “Openness is a hallmark of democracy ” a sacred maxim of our government ” and video is but a modern instrument in that evolving pursuit. Arbitrary rules that curb the openness of a public meeting are barricades against effective democracy. The use of modern technology to record and review the activities of public bodies should marshal pride in our open system of government, not muster suspicion against citizens who conduct the recording.”

I hope you will reconsider your words and actions of June 10. In doing so, I urge you to bring focus back to the important issues of fiscal responsibility, our compelling need for workforce housing and the affirmative engagement of the public on the important business of the city.

Marilyn Marks