Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tony Phillips & Marc Grammes: Let Lou Speak!

On Monday, I called Allentown Solicitor Frances Fruwirth. I wanted to ask her how she could reconcile Allentown's incumbent protection gag rule with it's Home Rule Charter as well as Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act. I left a message and tried my best to sound very nice.

Allentown City Council member Michael Donovan, who ostentatiously refers to himself as a "City Councilor," apparently has a law degree, too. He publicly defends the city's gag rule, under which candidates are muzzled at council meetings, as a matter of efficiency. He makes all kinds of ridiculous arguments. Here's one of them. "I don't see PA legislators or Congress having citizens, let alone candidates, speaking before their sessions. Do they? I may be wrong, but I don't think so."

Hey Councilor, that's because the Sunshine Act and Home Rule Charter have no application to those legislative bodies. Geez!

Instead of promoting "inclusion," Donovan has argued for the outright exclusion of candidates who might waste 21 minutes of his precious time during public meetings. Is he that afraid of what they might say?

Another member of Allentown City Council, Tony Phillips, believes we should allow ALL candidates to speak. After last week's city council meeting, Tony approached Ms. Fruwirth. Phillips' argument, which is actually quite clever, is that Lou's speech would actually be consistent with the gag rule. You see, under the gag rule, a candidate is only barred from discussing "new issues." Phillips argues that Hershman would be discussing matters that previously had been on the table. According to Phillips, Solicitor Fruwirth then admitted she had screwed up.

Now she might deny this or claim that Tony misunderstood her and that he needs elocution lessons, but she never returned my call. Looks like she's applying that gag rule to herself.

Marc Grammes, a class act former Lehigh County Commissioner who is on the sidelines for now, makes a very eloquent argument in favor of public dialogue.

"It has been my experience that if a candidate has the willingness to appear before a group of elected officials and express his or her opinion, it shows that they have an interest in the the office they seek. It is, after all, a public meeting. As a candidate, I was given the courtesy to speak before the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. I also spoke before several local municipal bodies while a candidate, if only to introduce myself. While a member of the Board of Commissioners, candidates came before us and they were given the courtesy of the floor just the same as any other citizen. It shows interest in the office. And it shows interest in the people who come before the Board. Elected officials are public servants. Part of public service is listening to the views of your constituents, whether or not you agree with them. Excluding individuals from participation in their government weakens the democratic process."

Marc, I think we might have to start calling you Councilor.

29 comments:

Joe Hilliard said...

What am I missing?

I just skimmed over the Administrative Code and could find no such prohibition.

However, I do recall that this has come up before. But it is a prohibition against "new" or "general" comments if memory serves. But speaking to a specific agenda item was/should be allowed.

I will research this. However, I will compile a list of all the violation of the Charter that I am aware of. This list is quite long. I will post on my blog when completed.

But here is one to start with. The Charter requires the submission of a balanced budget. So how did the Mayor submit, and Council approve, a budget with a known deficit? More to come...

Anonymous said...

The Allentown City Council rule is that candidates for public office may not speak at courtesty of the floor ... They may speak on resolutions, notions and Ordinances up for vote that evening.

This was a Daddona era legislation to prevent non-incumbernt candidates from launching political attacks on the incumbents up for election on their home turf so to speak.

The second sign of the political season is when the local media rail against political signs just when some non-incumbent not favored by the politicos and the media puts up his or her signs.

Dennis Pearson

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

If there is one good thing to come from all this it is that hopefully many are seeing "Councilor" Donovan for the fraud he truly is.

Normally, an issue has enough grey areas where the "councilor" can pander to both sides before coming to his "reasoned" conclusion. His filibuster-like speeches from the dias are usually designed to make everyone feel as though he has carefully considered their thoughts and positions before he votes the way he was going to anyway.


But occasionally an issue crops up where a clear decision must be made and where the subject doesn't lend itself to long-winded accounts of self introspection. This is such an issue.

It is issues like this that citizens can see what he (and others) are truly about. Unfortunately for Allentown, the voters won't remember come election time.

Anonymous said...

"I left a message and tried my best to sound very nice."

Bernie,
Well, we all know that's virtually impossible. However, moving right along, this is important and we thank you for
bringing this issue to the public. Keep up the good work. And, oh, you don't have to sound
nice on the Internet unless some
smart guy has voice recognition software.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the 3 minute rule - have you been to any public meetings? True, it forces major distillation of points, but if you let people have unlimited time they will ramble and meander and waste a ton of time. I would think a 5-7 minute limit might be more flexible.

As an aside on your campaign contributions posts - I heard on NPR that a group called Concerned Citizens are trying to show that the McCain-Feingold law is unconstitutional, so candidates would NOT have to reveal their donors.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The Sunshine Act permits a body to place time limits on speakers. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with denying the rioght to speak at all, which is what A-town city counciul has done.

I thank Dennis Pearson for providing some of the historical context. If he is right, then this rule was politically motivated from its inception.

I have also lost most of my respect for Donovan, even though he is not the chair. His ridiculous defense is insulting and belittles the public right to speak. It is contrary to the very "inclusion" he pretends to espouse. This, combined with his seal of approval on an unelected group of campaign contributors who will meet behind closed doors to decide which city workers to lay off, is the antithesis of transparent government.

Anonymous said...

As I said yesterday hershman is wasting his time going to the meeting instead of campaigning. If he doesn't know what the issues are after all these years in government he doesn't deserve to be elected. He needs to stop whining and work on getting elected.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Donovan will be driven to perform hari-kari now that you have pulled another of your great switcheroos and lost respect for him. He might even be on the roof of City hall at this moment, contemplating ending his life, now that you have abandoned him, O lord of the blogs.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"hershman is wasting his time going to the meeting instead of campaigning."

Depends. If Hershman is actually interested in government, he should attend the meetings.

"He needs to stop whining"

Insisting on a right of public participation is not considered whining unless you're sitting on the dais, looking at your watch.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I'm sure Donovan will be driven to perform hari-kari now that you have pulled another of your great switcheroos and lost respect for him."

I haven't pulled anything. One of my driving philosophies is OPEN & ACCOUNTABLE government. Donovan claimed he was interested in that, too. He's not. He stands for the status quo but just uses terms like "ethical relativism" and "consequentialism" to snow people. I have lost my respect for him. I'm sure that means nothing to him, but it means something to me.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
If you see Tony Phillips, maybe you would suggest he put a contact phone no. and mailing address on his candidacy
website so residents may reach him.

Anonymous said...

You can be interested in Government
and find out what went on at the meetings without attending. I'm not saying he doesn't have a vaild complaint, he does. It's ridiculous that they didn't let him speak. However if I were the candidate I would be out campaigning. It's just a more intelligent use of his time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:54,

I will mention this next time I speak to Tony or Ken. I am not part of his campaign, but think contact info is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bernie.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"As an aside on your campaign contributions posts - I heard on NPR that a group called Concerned Citizens are trying to show that the McCain-Feingold law is unconstitutional, so candidates would NOT have to reveal their donors."

That's interesting. I can't think of anything more important than actual disclosure. Most of those who oppose limits on contributions will still readily concede that it is important that people know who is funding this political speech.

Anonymous said...

Hershman can't risk campaigning. Once people meet him, they are repelled by him.

michael molovinsky said...

in fairness to michael donovan, as a long time observer of allentown city council, he ranks right up there with the most accessible and responsive council members we have had, from either party.

CatsGawtmwyTwongue said...

imagine that.. freedom of speach being limited by Gov't... no bias here eeh?

Bernie O'Hare said...

MM, Fair enough. He is open enough to tell us he believes in exclusion.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:00, Does it make you feel good to launch an anonymous attack like that? The topic here is the gag rule, not your political disdain.

Bernie O'Hare said...

CatsGawtmwyTwongue,

Yeah, and it's for our own good, too.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the 'concerned citizens' are the conservative group behind "Hillary, the movie'

Anonymous said...

MM -

Realize this - he seems "responsive", but he is a fake.

He wants to APPEAR concerned and open-minded. In reality, he is not

WhetherVain said...

Awww, geez.

(Directed at Mr. Donovan)

I met you (chased after you, really, after you rang my doorbell and I initially missed you) back when you were taking your solo walks through various neighborhoods as you sought this council position. We chatted a bit and after we parted, you appeared to be just a guy who was trying to make a difference as a public servant. I thought, GOOD FOR YOU and wished you well.

After reading this whole thing here, methinks you just probably got caught up in (and relied upon) some impressions/influences that might have rubbed off on you from contact within the political arena (i.e. that Hershman guy is a known heva-hava, ignore him, etc. etc. etc.) You may have succumbed to this influence which has caused this false step bruhaha you find yourself in now.

My advice: own up to this incident (in that it really wasn't your best call) and lessen the fallout. After all that's been presented here and your stated desire for good & open government, you can learn from this and redeem yourself.

If you're the sincere fella I met who came off as someone who just wants to do his part in helping our fair city, then "repent" and sin no more.

I'm rootin' for ya, Mike. We need good folks on council and I still think you have it in you to do what you set out to do...leave our city in better shape than you found it...while respecting everyone's right to be heard.

Bernie O'Hare said...

WhetherVain,

Very well put, and with a tad more compassion than I can muster at the moment. But you are right to put it exactly as you did. I am extremely disappointed in Donovan because I feel it is completely contrary to the way he represented himself. Frankly, I am learning more from people outside of government than he seems willing to share, as will be clear tomorrow.

Michael Donovan said...

To all:

I stand by my opinion. I really do not care whether Mr. O'Hare has lost respect for me, and quite frankly, something seems fishy when the state legislature will force a law on municipalities and not on itself. Doesn't that seem strange? Certainly, not in the tradition of the New England town meeting, is it?

From what I understand, it is not the first time laws are forced on municipalities and not on the legislature.

Also, I have good, consistent reasons for saying candidates, all candidates, should not speak on anything except what specifically is on the agenda. Some people may not agree, but so be it. My reasoning is my own. I can say that because when I was told that I could not speak during my candidacy, I thought that was a reasonable rule and accepted it. I did not change because of "political pressure."

And, this evening at the Budget and Finance Committee, we had an agenda item on strategy for the committee to consider. Mr. Hershman spoke (I am chair). I had no qualms about him speaking because it was an agenda item. I would have allowed any candidate to speak. Mr. Hershman offered a very good idea that Mr. D'Amore, Mr. Phillips, and myself thought should be pursued.

AND, I did not allow him speak because Mr. O'Hare lost respect for me. It was an agenda item on which to speak.

FINALLY, I really don't care if people think that somehow I am a monster in disguise. I know who I am, what I stand for, and how I reason out difficult issues.

If people do not want to vote for me next time, that is their choice. I still will do the best possible job for as many people as possible, while still in office. I especially focus on what is best for the people of Allentown, not those beyond the borders of Allentown, unless they own property here.

Best regards, and shoot away, folks, especially you, Bernie. I enjoy it.

Michael Donovan

ps...such fun.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Michael, I don't think I or anyone else called you a "monster in disguise." I did say your use of the term "Councilor" in referring to yourself is a tad ostentatious here in the LV. I also claimed I've lost all my respect for you on council, but am glad that does not bother you. I was worried.

The reality is that, despite your protests, you are not the person you presented yourself to be. You can't have civility w/o respect and you clearly have no respect for people who wish to be heard. You have no respect for city workers bc you endorse some cabal of unelected campaign contributors to meet in secvret and review their jobs. Only you know whether you're really a phony, but that's the impression I'm getting.

As far as enjoying the criticism is concerned, I'm deligthed to hear that.

IRONPIGPEN said...

ISOLATE, PERSONALIZE, ATTACK

Sol Alinsky or whatever his stupid name is.

Got me a copy of the playbook, too, now. So does everybody else.

OBAMA KNOWS ALL ABOUT IT AND SO DO HIS DISCIPLES (whoops, I meant stupid disciples)

DONOVAN = WANNABE OBAMA on the local level

Isn't that right councilman?

LVCI said...

" something seems fishy when the state legislature will force a law on municipalities and not on itself."

It's done all the time at state and federal congressional levels. labor laws, anti-discrimination laws and all so many more are enacted to the exclusion of congress. That's their standard operating procedure. Does that make government at the state a federal level responsive to the wishes of the people.. no?

So I suppose people are a bit more tenacious to try and hang on to what little they may have left at the local level. I'm sure many of us at one time or another tried to contact a federal congressman and got stuck with their staff's lack of responsiveness. Hence most of us are quite discouraged and sensitive to the lack of input.

I for one... am still waiting (4 years) for Specter's office efforts (after numerous calls) in attempt to settle my mother-in-law's estate through State Banking commission violations (by a local bank) that they are required by law to respond to in 60 days!

Further... Years ago I read Hillary's entire Healthcare proposal. Sent my email specific objections to the Clinton Whitehouse. In return I got a thank you for your support in machined email... WTF!!!

So you see we all have in some way in some time or another been ignored. So I suppose this pushes a hot button for many of us. In-so-much of the fact when government even smells of being none responsive. Perhaps we're all beating up on one guy... but there's a whole lot of frustration out here.