June 23, 2008
Dallas City Council says "No loonies, please"

Got this from a reader: Dallas City Council would like certain people to please zip their lips, and they plan to do something about it.

That's because time and again, council members (particularly Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway) have grudgingly tolerated or even openly battled with some of the same eight or nine people who speak before the council with regularity, if not every week.

Sadly, most of these folks attempt to make points obvious only to themselves, using their allotted three minutes of open microphone time to jabber, patter, babble or drone. Often, these diatribes prove more impenetrable than a Fort Knox vault. Council members, in turn, leave the council chambers feeling as if they've just wasted half an hour. And arguably, they have.

So here's what the council is proposing to do about it:

  • Eliminate the open microphone period at the beginning of voting agenda meetings. (Current practice: Five speakers are allowed to address the council before business starts.)
  • Prohibit persons from speaking during an end-of-meeting open microphone period if they spoke, other than at a public hearing, at the last held regular council meeting. (Current practice: Anyone may address the council at the end of any full council meeting.)
  • Require speakers to register in person, by phone, or by e-mail by 5 p.m. the day preceding council meeting. (Current practice: Speakers may register up to 9 a.m. on the morning of a meeting.)
  • Allow the mayor or a majority of the council to restrict time limits when a large number of persons want to speak at public hearings and open microphone periods. (Current practice: This is often de facto procedure, although not necessarily.)
  • Move to "clarify that ad hoc committees are not subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act unless otherwise required by state law." (Current practice: Reporters and the public have access to such meetings. Dallas Public Information Director Frank Librio says he's not immediately certain what would be considered an "ad hoc" committee under this new law.)

Of course, these council rules wouldn't just affect a handful of hapless agitators: They'd affect anyone wishing to address the Dallas City Council.

About five years ago. Harris County Commissioners Court tried something similar, apparently without effect. As then, I have some sympathy for the effort. It is a waste of time, not just for the Council, for whom such distractions are a part of the job, but more for the other citizens who attend these meetings in the hopes of addressing their concerns. If anyone has been discouraged or deterred from doing so because of these frequent flyers, then I'd argue their speech has been impeded. It's certainly possible that the proposed rules could make it easier for them to participate.

Having said that, I can't see these alterations, which are to be debated on Wednesday, going through. This is pushing the envelope of the Open Meetings law, and it's sure to result in some kind of legal action. I don't know that there is a good solution to this problem, which is roughly the equivalent of troll moderation in an Internet forum. Any suggestions?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2008 to Show Business for Ugly People

Well, this loonie says that democracy is demonstrated and problems resolved when the speaker follows decorum, the elected official does his job and the newspaper sticks with the facts.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on June 23, 2008 2:47 PM