Don’t let body language sully City Council performance
By BILL HALL
Many people who follow politics today understand that there are three branches of government.
These are the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. One of the functions of the legislative branch is to write law. One of the functions of the executive branch is to execute and enforce law.
One of the functions of the judicial branch is to interpret law when needed. As a Williamsport City Councilman I am a member of a local legislative body and tend to focus my attention there and wish to clarify some misperceptions about how City Council works.
When one closely observes any legislative body in the world in session one can note the groups of people standing in different corners of the room having discussions while other people are carrying different notes from one group or person to another, others are on their phones, others can be seen staring at the ceiling and others are actually paying attention to whoever is speaking at the podium at the moment. This is called democracy at work. This is how things get done.
Williamsport City Council is a legislative body. As president of that body, I have no problem with two or three councilpersons conferencing at the water cooler, a councilman taking the solicitor into the hallway to clarify something, the passing of notes up and down the table between members or text messages going back and forth during a meeting.
This is not rude. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
I expect this because this is a working meeting and this is how things get done. What I do not expect is for all councilmen to sit up straight, keep their eyes forward, keep their hands folded and communicate with no one during the session lest they have their knuckles rapped with a ruler for “inappropriate behavior.”
Furthermore, council is not limited to two Thursday night meetings a month. The members are constantly at work. In fact, I know that most council members work at this job between 15 and 25 hours a week at least.
Committee meetings, ad hoc meetings to address specific concerns, (that’s how we cleaned up the entertainment district ordinance, for example, with Ms Miele as chair), telephone calls, meetings and other communications with our constituents, discussions with each other and the Administration about ideas, refinements to ordinances, budgets, etc.
In the past several years this council, working as described above and in conjunction with the administration, has achieved many things.
Reach Road reconstruction (something that has been needed for at least 20 years), Memorial Park pool, the Brodart-Memorial Homes residential development, a landlord-tenant ordinance, (which was an 8-hour marathon spread across two meetings), a towing ordinance, an entertainment district, a police records management system, (with an extra special effort by the Public Safety Committee with Mr. Smith as Chair), creation of an IT department, a restructuring of our system of recreation, a revamping of our codes department, major street improvements these are just a few things that come to mind.
We have not all agreed on everything, nor should anyone expect total agreement, but we have gotten things done. We have done it with unity and without rancor, finger pointing or the “politics of personal destruction”.
I might also note that we have also achieved these objectives without tax increases for the last several years. Based on the results of the last election, our citizens noticed and appreciated it.
I ask that when people wish to express their opinions on any matter relating to city government in any forum, be it the Internet, TV, newspaper, radio, etc. they try to keep focused on the topic or issue being discussed rather than their perceptions of and/or second-hand stories of elected officials’ behavior at meetings.
Better yet, come to a couple of meetings to see the deliberative process at work. I will gladly trade off people being late for whatever reasons and people missing meetings, (as we have all done in the last several years), people passing notes or going over to the corner to confer, (all a part of a healthy, working democracy), if the results are what I’ve listed above.
And those results, I think, speak for themselves.
The bottom line is that results are what should and do matter to the citizens.
Hall is president of Williamsport City Council.