A Wednesday night Common Council meeting in an off week is odd enough, but add in a 10-minute discussion on whether to allow a speaker an additional two minutes to speak publicly and visions of a Monty Python skit couldn't help but come to my mind.
Jim Lindhorst came to the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting, and requested that his time be given to fellow resident Kurt Blomdahl to make his presentation. Current rules allow for two minutes per speaker, so Lindhorst (and eventually others) was hoping to allow Blomdahl additional time to present information, complete with a large poster board for illustrative purposes.
However, the council had to vote first to dismiss its rule of allowing two minutes per speaker, and with the city's attorney in attendance, it got more technical than it really needed to be.
The net effect of ceding your time to another to speak is the same. One person who speaks for 10 minutes versus five people is no different, and when you have a citizenry that's already feeling ignored, a decision to grant two additional minutes shouldn't have taken as long as it did Wednesday night.
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve the move, which is allowable under meeting rules. Alderman Noah Fiedler was the most concerned, fearing that "things could get out of hand" if the council didn't apply the 'two-minute per speaker' waiver on a case-by-case basis.
I've gone on record in favor of a park on the lake, and as the evening went on, it was clear that the vocal majority was in opposition. They admit that it's not a scientific way to measure voter preference, and as the council began to mull over what a referendum question could state, it became clear that there could be an opening for the possibility of a citywide vote on the issue.
I would agree it could be the only way to truly gauge interest for a park.
The language of the petition was agreed not to have legal effect, and Eric Larson, city attorney, advised the council to instead rewrite a referendum question if that is the course they wish to take. While Larsen had to read an agonizing explanation of why the petition was not valid, his use of an analogy regarding a cardboard stop sign at an intersection versus a official red octagonal sign the city approves and constructs was far more effective
Ultimately the discussion was deferred, which is a victory of sorts for the opposition, and the general feeling was that no one wants a park at any cost, especially if the cost is the trust of taxpayers.
I have two concerns. Should a re-crafted referendum question be drafted and approved, aldermen are cautioning it is only advisory. That makes residents shudder, as we've advised council on the past on other issues, only to be told "That's nice, but we're doing our own thing."
I would hope that after all the angst and struggle, a solid showing for a referendum vote clearly outlines where the hearts and minds are of the community on this issue.
Which brings me to my second concern. As contentious and consuming that this issue has been, my other fear is that the referendum makes it on a ballot, and we see a rousing turnout of 30 percent. That puts us back to not really being sure what most people want. (A point was made repeatedly last night about a clear message being sent to Tracy Snead in her second place finish in the first district primary, but that turnout was only 24 percent.)
So, folks, be prepared, you may get want you wanted, but let's make complete use of our right to exercise the vote so the message really is clear to elected politicians (and to each other), no matter how the vote comes down. A minority percentage vote clarifies nothing, and ends up being a waste of time.