About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Will Allentown City Council Let Lou Speak?

Lou Hershman, an 8-year veteran of Allentown City Council and its former Controller for 24 years, was denied the opportunity to speak at Allentown's last City Council get together. Council rules permit the Council President to muzzle anyone who is a candidate for city office. Tonight, Low will try again. Will he succeed? Let's review.

Here's the Council Gag Rule:

"Candidate Participation: Persons running for office in a primary or general election will not be allowed to speak to "new issues" under Good and Welfare or Courtesy of the Floor. This prohibition will apply as soon as the candidate's nominating petition is filed and until after the General Election in that same year (unless a candidate is unsuccessful In the primary). The Presiding Officer will enforce this rule.

"1. Good and Welfare prohibition applies to members of City Council seeking election.

"2. Courtesy of the Floor prohibition applies to those, not on Council, seeking election. (26179 12/6/89)"

Sounds pretty good, huh? But this Council Incumbent Protection Rule is trumped by Allentown's Home Rule Charter, which is the equivalent of its own constitution. In very clear language, a citizen's right to be heard is clearly established.

"The Council must provide reasonable opportunity for interested citizens and taxpayers to address the Council on matters of general or special concern. Citizens’ right to be heard shall be the first order of business at all public meetings and before a vote on any Council business. The public shall be granted the opportunity to comment at Council meetings without time limitations, except when the Council President, imposes a reasonable time limitation deemed necessary. Council members, by a vote of a majority plus one (1), may override the Council president’s time limitation."

In addition to the plain language of the Home Rule Charter, Allentown's gag rule is trumped by The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, specifically provides that residents and taxpayers must be given a reasonable opportunity "to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action."

Nothing in either the Charter or Sunshine Act allows a Council to muzzle someone simply because he is running for office. The Sunshine Act also has a specific provision for publicly noting violations. "Any person has the right to raise an objection at any time to a perceived violation of this chapter at any meeting ... ." I'll be at the meeting and intend to object if Council gags Lou again.

The Sunshine Act also permits the filing of a declaratory judgment action in the event of a violation. Government by litigation is infinitely preferable to government in the dark. Will City Council let Lou speak? Why are they afraid?

No comments: