Living in Hanover

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Facts About Meetings and Comments

April 18, 2014 | 5 Comments

This is a modified version of a comment I posted on the Living in Hanover Facebook page.

Rules for public comment need to be in place. But where do those rules come from and why are they enacted? That’s the crux of this discussion. And, as a data-driven guy, I took a look at the numbers, based on council minutes.

The average council meeting from January 2013 to March 2014 lasted 52 minutes. Less than an hour! The median is 49 minutes. And that includes the full meeting time for the four joint-bid meetings, which are by each over an hour. So they skew the number a bit.

The meetings around the library controversy are the longest so any complaint by borough council that the meetings are too long because of public comment is undone by their own decision-making. Maybe if it had been handled differently, the discussion would have flowed differently and they wouldn’t have had to “endure” two hours of listening to people share their opinions.

Only one meeting exceeded two hours. One more exceeded 90 minutes. Eleven meetings went over an hour and half of those were joint bid events so seven of 28 meetings went over an hour solely because of borough business.

So we have established that the average council meeting takes less than an hour and only exceeds that hour about 25 percent of time time with a couple of exceptions. Since they have reduced official meetings to once a month, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Now let’s look at the issue of who is commenting since that has come up with council. Apparently, business owners who pay business taxes are not the audience they want to hear from. You could extrapolate that into saying that they have a problem with the opinion of these folks because they think they represent an oversized number of the speakers.

As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend.” By my count, there were 68 instances of public comment in the same period I described above. With 28 meetings in the data set, that’s a little more than two people per meeting. That shouldn’t be a burden, in my opinion.

Of these speakers, 39 (57 percent) were borough residents as identified by their address. That may be higher because some business owners do not have their home address listed so I may be under counting. Another seven were what I will call “presenters.” These are official representatives of organizations like Main Street or the county redevelopment authority or state Rep. Will Tallman. That’s a shade over 10 percent of the speakers.

So non-residents or non-resident business owners account for 33 percent of the speakers in front of a body that averages less than an hour per meeting. Is that a burden that requires new rules to restrict their involvement? When answering that, folks need to remember that direct actions (or inaction) by council are the main reason these folks come to speak.

If they were more pro-active with keeping Pru Keffer up-to-date on what is happening at 217 Baltimore Street, she wouldn’t be “bothering” them. If they had thought through the library plans, Kathy Hoar wouldn’t take up their precious time.

This is an issue that municipalities have a right to set the guidelines, but I come back to my question from the beginning – do we need new guidelines? Is there a crisis in Hanover or does council just want to shut up a few select people because they find them to be an irritant?

I know what I think. And I think the numbers show a pretty clear picture too.

5 people are talking about “Facts About Meetings and Comments

  1. The Borough Manager, Council President, and a number of its Members are simply opposed to conducting the Borough’s business in the open under public scrutiny. Solicitor Yingst has told Miss Manager on issues of Sunshine and Open Records, to “err on the side of secrecy”. These folks have a view of their own power which is antithetical to the principle of open government and Free Speech under the First Amendment. If they weren’t so clearly incompetent or misdirected, they would have nothing to hide. But there is a load of stuff they’ve hidden because they understand that the public they “serve” would be furious if they found out. Unfortunately, many citizens, taxpayers and business owners are too timid to stand up and demand that the Borough be run by the rule of law. The time has come when this sort of Star Chamber government is coming to an end no matter what it takes. Litigation is the hard and expensive way which the Borough can’t afford, but which its opponents can. I’m afraid the Borough folks are too stupid or stubborn to recognize this and they will fritter away tens of thousands more in taxpayer dollars like they did on the Library. $35K to rip up the carpet, another $35K to bribe the Guthrie Gangsters, and $35K to replace the ripped-up carpet. All Solicitor Yingst’s fault for his failure to render correct and timely advice to his client the Borough. His malpractice insurer should foot some or all of this bill, but the odds that the Borough would make such a legitimate claim are zero. They like the half-arsed advice they get to “err on the side of secrecy”.

  2. Great job on this Brian and I agree. There should be more important things for Council to worry with. Another subject I would like to see you research is the recent school tax increase and the need for it. Look at what retired citizens receive from paying school taxes with no children in the system for years compared to Borough taxes. Work with Scott on this as he is good at putting finances in to perspective. When complete maybe get with the evening sun reporter so she can do a true story. Again great job on the facts.

    • Considering the school district has cut spending by about $150K in less than a year and will use the increase to work and cut down the deficit in the district’s budget, I’d say they did the best they could. School district budgets are vastly different from municipal ones. Dr. Scola has done amazing work in just a short time and values openness and direct dealings with the community. Justbecause school taxes are higher does not mean they are wasting money compared to the borough.

      But it was a nice try to bait me.

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