Democracy at work

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I think I’m not alone in my hatred of going to public meetings. They tend to be endlessly long and boring and mired in the jargon of whereases and heretofores and motions and committees. Sometimes, I’ll have to go to a board meeting of some kind for a particular story that I’m writing, and I have to sit for several hours before they even get to the topic I’m interested in. 

For a long time I was completely baffled by the whole use of parliamentary procedure (like Robert’s Rules of Order). It seemed to be such a pompous waste of time. There might be a motion on the floor, for example, but after some discussion, the board comes to a consensus about a change in the motion, but they have to wait for the original person who made the motion to withdraw it so a new motion can be put forward or else amend it, and it just takes forever. And then at the end of the meeting, it can’t just be over, someone has to make a motion to adjourn the meeting. What a waste of time, I used to think.

Well, I’ve changed my tune a bit. That’s because I’ve been to enough meetings like the one I went to this week, that are so unorganized they border on anarchy. I describe what happened in this article.

In case you missed it, basically the story was that Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel gave a presentation to the Minneapolis Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA) outlining a proposal to combine the CRA with the Minneapolis Police Internal Affairs Department. After giving the presentation and answering a few questions by CRA board members, she left, promising to watch the video of the rest of the meeting later. 

Now, here’s the thing about that. The meeting was a CRA board meeting, so Korbel , who is not on the CRA board, doesn’t technically have an obligation to stay through the whole meeting where many citizens planned to speak against the proposed merger. She admitted that there was a work group that has been having meetings and talking with the mayor and City Council Chair Barbara Johnson about making the change in policy without informing the public. Apparently these meetings are not governed by Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law, which prohibits actions being taken at secret meetings where “it is impossible for the interested public to become fully informed about a public board’s decisions or to detect improper influences.” We can guess that eventually the city council will have to vote on the change in policy, and when that happens, they will have to take public comment on the issue.

Let’s hope when that happens, it will be a little less of a three ring circus than what I witnessed at City Hall this week, where the CRA chair ended the meeting without making a motion, and then the meeting continued anyway and the chair came back and even the security guards who came in because everyone was shouting at the top of their lungs threatened to close down the meeting.

Sometimes, order can be a good thing. So is allowing public input on issues that affect them. Let’s try to keep both, before we lose sight of our democracy.