Setting the stage.
My lovely wife and I went to a city council meeting last night. I entered the council meeting with a small amount of apprehension, and left bewildered, but somewhat relieved.
We originally went to the City Council meeting for purely selfish reasons. One of my wife’s colleagues was being presented an award for their group’s contributions to United Way. My wife was, and is, a key part of this team. This was the first thing on the agenda and we figured that we would be in and out rather quickly. I thought it would be interesting to see how the city council works; I was looking forward to experiencing how decisions are made at a local level.
After a call to order, and the pledge of allegiance, the city council did a roll call. This seemed kind of superfluous as there were seven chairs and seven name plaques and only one chair without an ass in it. But for the sake of decorum and to follow the rules of order each name was said in turn and answered. No one was surprised when the empty chair didn’t respond.
My first mistake was the assumption that a city council meeting would be like one of my meetings work. It would have a specific start time, and agenda, and a reasonable expectation of when the meeting would adjourn. Well it had an agenda. I knew we were in trouble when the Mayor asked if there was anyone in the audience (citizens) who wanted to make a short statement or comment to the city council about items that were not on the agenda. This begs the question, why have an agenda? Two dozen hands went up.
Uh, oh, this doesn’t sound good.
I guess this is a normal form of feedback to the City Council. The Mayor granted each person just two minutes to state their case, a timer was provided to enforce this. So the way it worked was a line of people formed behind the microphone, they would approach, give their name and start yammering, a green light went on by the microphone and a countdown timer started to work its way back from 2:00. At 0:30 the light would turn to yellow and would beep once. At 0:00 a red light came on and the beeping was continuous. This was my first experience with this method other than the televised debates, where it is apparently just for show; otherwise I was completely ignorant with this process. Apparently the people waiting for the microphone were well acquainted with the process, and how to exploit it to their advantage.
Here is how two obviously organized groups exploited this limitation to their advantage. Two minutes is obviously not enough time to really drive something home or make a real nuisance of yourself, so the groups wrote long, long speeches and then passed it from person to person, two minutes each. Oh and the two dozen hands that went up didn’t really represent the total number of people who wished to speak, it was closer to forty. I am sure that if the true number was reflected the Mayor would have gone with a one minute time limit rather than two. So if you want to get more time, team up to make a long speech, then under represent your numbers to get more time each.
To be continued….