Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Council President Storch keeps word on Council conduct

Newly elected Council President Cory Storch
conducts his maiden agenda-setting session January 11.

Plainfield City Council's new President, Cory Storch, showed that he means what he says about the conduct of Council meetings (see his blog post on the matter here).

At the point in the meeting for "discussion items", Storch laid out his view of how he will conduct meetings.

Regarding the length of time for public comments, he asked Corporation Counsel Dave Minchello to explain the constitutional implications of not treating all speakers in a uniform fashion.

The bottom line is that all speakers will get their 3 minutes (in the first comment period) or 5 minutes (at the end of the meeting) with no extensions. Storch underscored that those desiring to speak would be well-advised to time their remarks beforehand so they can get their points made in the allotted time.

Councilor Taylor, in a hair-splitting maneuver, asked if there were no exceptions. When asked for an example, she struggled to come up with one, finally hitting on a person who may have a disability. Minchello agreed there might be an extenuating circumstance in such a case.

The rule was tested during the initial public comment period, which was almost exclusively taken up with the question of the school board election date.

Board of Ed President Wilma Campbell ran out the clock before finishing her points and looked beseechingly at Storch. Storch remained firm and the audience expressed its support for his stand.

Likewise, BOE attorney Lisa Fittipaldi, evidently unaccustomed to time constraints, ran up against the buzzer before she had made her final point. Too bad. She had to relinquish the mike.

Resident Mustapha Muhammad, who has frequently been granted multiple extensions of the time limit, kept his remarks well within the time limit.

So, it can be done.

Storch was also at pains to explain a parliamentary maneuver (Point of Order), which Council President Rivers always ignored during her tenure.

The Council's conduct was remarkably even-tempered, with no flareups. Perhaps they were on their best behavior for the night?

Councior Taylor, however, during the discussion on developing a policy for the use of emergency communications, showed off her proclivity for dead-horse-beating, catching herself in a loop of repetition that left the audience rolling its eyes.

Despite the measurable improvement in the tone and conduct of the meeting, there is still some work to be done.

The meeting still started late, owing to an executive session that spilled over into the announced meeting time (the meeting finally started at 7:43 PM). This is an even worse problem with the Board of Ed meetings.

Since there was going to be a continuation of the executive session after the agenda-setting was finished, I don't see the reason for the late start. It would be easy to have the Clerk set an alarm to go off five minutes before the scheduled public meeting time.

Murmuring and audible conversation in the audience were also problems at points in the meeting. There is no reason for this. Council President Storch has the gavel and should wield it, in my opinion, to keep order in the audience as well as at the Council table.

Three sharp cracks of the gavel are a universal signal to quiet down, and should be used as needed.

Audience members can be told to go out in the hall if they must have a conversation.

Lastly, I think that applause in support of one or another speaker should not be permitted. The prohibition has perhaps been honored more in the breach than not in the past, but it helps keep the Council meetings from devolving into a futbol brawl.

Council President Storch has got us off to a good start.

Who knows, maybe Plainfield City Council meetings will cease being a source of embarrassment and become the place where the public's business gets done in a respectable fashion.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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