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July 26, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)

Are we looking for a lost ball in high weeds? It seems like it was only yesterday when city council discussed the issue of unnecessary noise, again. A decade or more ago the discussion in council chambers was prompted by boom boxes, pedestrians—sometimes two—one carrying a radio on his shoulder—the other holding a pair of speakers—both traipsing merrily along downtown streets blaring unintelligible notes, except for the bass. City council deliberated and passed a law to deal with that and later included loud music from automobiles—the latter was a gift to the police—something about stopping cars for probable cause.

A couple of years ago city lawmakers spent nearly a month discussing animal noises before statutorily forbidding birds and dogs from excessively loud singing, screeching, chirping, howling and barking within the city limits. More recently council wrestled with appearance problems; couches on porches, houses without paint, and landlords. Now, city council is back in the appearance business; this time it’s lawns, un-mowed, unkempt and unsightly lawns.

We can all agree that these are important issues brought about by citizens that do not live neat, orderly or in some instances thoughtful lives. However, our city council has a history of discussing seemingly mundane issues with questionable results. Council had a lengthy struggle with billboards and one might wonder if we are the better for it. Parking regulations in the city remain confusing and one of these days someone is going to challenge the timing accuracy of city parking meters. Do you get a full sixty minutes for a quarter or do you get fifty-four?

Regardless, such discussions and debates is the people’s business. Discussing noise and un-kept lawns and parking and billboards is part of properly managing a city. As city residents we may fuss with the outcome, but our city councils did what they were meant to do—they discussed and debated the aforementioned issues many times. That is why I find it so stunningly unremarkable that neither this city council nor those preceding have spent hardly any time discussing and debating one of the most important and costly issues of our time. Neither side of the new power plant will be well served if this measure is approved or disapproved with so little debate by city council.

Without vigorous debate City Council and the people of Jamestown run the risk of being confronted with “delay and running out of time” tactics effectively employed by previous Mayors. Few, however, have used that tactic more artfully than the Teresi Administration. It would be instructive to know how many times former City Council President Lillian Ney left council meetings frustrated when the Administration arrived at the eleventh hour with an urgent piece of legislation. Regardless, council more often than not approves the measure and the details are only revealed much later when it is suddenly discovered that the State or the Feds have financial strings attached.

There is a perfectly reasonable way for City Council to engage in a conversation concerning the power plant that will be enlightening, honorable and will not require additional meetings for busy council members. City council operates under Roberts Rules of Order that provides a mechanism for the entire council to sit as a Committee of The Whole. The City Charter gives council the authority to issue subpoenas and take sworn testimony. As long as council insists upon replacing what were formerly political caucuses with Monday night Work Sessions might they dedicate one Monday night a month to sitting as a Committee of the Whole for formal, public discussions of the proposed power plant?

It would probably be unnecessary to place all witnesses under oath, but there is something about sworn testimony that adds immediate clarity to even the most complex issues.


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