Monday, July 13, 2015

More speech, not less

"Freedom of Speech" - Norman Rockwell

The First Amendment … presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. To many this is, and will always be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all.   
- Judge Learned Hand, United States v. Associated Press, 52 F. Supp. 362 S.D.N.Y. (1943), aff’d, 326 U.S. 1 (1945).

Apparently there is some concern amongst certain elected officials and members of the bureaucracy that the good citizens of Rochester are having a bit too much to say about the governance of their city.

From the Post Bulletin 7.13.15 edition story "Rochester City Council weighs citizen input in developments," this:
Developers of commercial and residential property in Rochester are increasingly being encouraged to consult with residents and neighborhood associations before seeking city approval — but the weight the Rochester City Council places on that input is now the subject of a council conversation.
I'm not sure what the issue really is here, but I am pretty sure that any conversation by elected officials about "residents and neighborhood associations" having too much influence on city government is not a good conversation for them to be having. Even worse if they are wondering whether or not they should be listening to these people.

Better, you'd think, to be asking if citizens are having too little influence. Better still to be looking for ways to enhance citizen participation rather than raising concerns about "organizational (bureaucratic) principles." Apparently not, for just two days after the Fourth of July, this:
During the July 6 council meeting, City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold asked whether it was appropriate for volunteer and appointed bodies, including the City Planning and Zoning Commission and the Committee for Urban Design and Environment, to negotiate changes to development proposals.
Notice the concern is expressed as to whether citizens should be negotiating with developers, not whether developers should be negotiating with citizens. Negotiation does after all require the participation of both parties. The implication is that if developers are talking with people, well, OK. But if people are talking with developers, maybe we need to take a look at just what's going on here. Especially, it seems, if some of these developers are listening to these citizens.

Notice too that the reporting includes "volunteer and appointed bodies."

It would appear that the bureaucracy wants to rein in the citizenry serving in appointed positions. Persons who apply for nomination by the Mayor and serve with the approval of the council. Fine. A bit of the professional's sharp elbow to the chin of the interfering amateur. A bit of stick to the rabble at the gates. Inside baseball, best not aired so publicly, but there it is.

But, "volunteer" bodies? 

If the city is beset upon by out of control commissions hijacking the system, imposing their will upon the "people's elected officials," and otherwise cluttering up the orderly conduct of city government by insisting upon participating in it - well, by all means, let's talk about it while we still can. Who knows when these commissions might render the council powerless.

However, for the city to even entertain that its elected officials or administrative staff should be passing judgment upon the "appropriateness" of with whom citizens gather to speak, or about what they choose to speak, or what that speech concludes - the "appropriateness" of that conduct by government officials demands of us serious conversation.

In the end, who would be surprised to learn that the issue is not that some citizens of the city are demanding more influence in its governing, but rather others in the city fear having a bit less.

First, we are told that food trucks cannot be on downtown public streets.

Now, we are told that maybe the public shouldn't be having all that much to say about what is built on the streets in their neighborhoods.

Here's a headline for you: "Rochester City Council weighs citizen input in the voting booth." 

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