Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Officials shouldn't try to tune out vox populi

Talk about your bad public relations, if you happen to be an elected official who wants to stay that way.

You sit up there in the rarefied air of the dais and give folks below the distinct impression they should hush. Or at least not talk so much. Can't you people see we're trying to work here?

The Tampa City Council recently took up the idea of being able to nix public comment at monthly workshops, their more informal discussion sessions.

Council members Mary Mulhern and Tom Scott seemed to like the idea of being able to opt out of allowing the public to speak out at workshops, since there are regular meetings at which citizens can have their say.

"We could not have a discussion where we weren't having the public pressuring us," said Mulhern, who, by the way, ran as a populist candidate. She told the audience at the meeting she was happy to hear what they had to say. But, she said, "I don't need to hear it three times."

Putting aside the idea that public input equals "pressure," this did appear to be a genuine effort to operate more efficiently. But in politics, public perception is everything. And it sure didn't send a vote of confidence to those already cynical about whether anyone up there is listening.

So it was good to see activists stand up to have their say at the meeting that day (it not being a workshop and all). We want to voice our concerns when the issue's in the talking stages, they said. We're appalled you'd even think of taking away a chance for us to be heard, they said. The City Council sure was starting to sound like another board that infamously tried to restrict public comment on a major environmental issue last year — the Hillsborough County Commission. (That one stung a little.)

Council member Charlie Miranda got the prize for pragmatism when he questioned the usefulness of some workshops in the first place ("We have workshops (on) what time is the sun going to rise," he said). And John Dingfelder sensibly pointed out that to voters, a meeting is a meeting is a meeting even when you call it a workshop.

So in the face of citizens who were paying attention, the board voted unanimously — and wisely — to set aside 30 minutes per workshop for public comment.

To her credit, Mulhern later said she did not speak well that day. But she said again she didn't want to hear the same thing from the same people over and over again.

Maybe not. Maybe it can be inefficient and tedious and redundant. It's also an important requirement of the job they elected you to do.

In a bill that could have been written for last week's meeting, state lawmakers are considering the possibility of public officials going deaf, so to speak. (That is, when the gang in Tallahassee's not busy deciding critical issues like whether we should be allowed to ride around with replicas of a bull's unmentionables hanging from the trailer hitches of our pickup trucks, though maybe that's a fitting symbol for a place that refuses to get rid of a state song about "de old plantation" and likes the idea of us toting our guns to work.)

The Voice of the People Act would require local governments to allow at least 15 minutes of public comment at each meeting.

Too bad we need a law to remind elected officials to listen to the folks who put them there.

Officials shouldn't try to tune out vox populi 04/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 7:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.