On August 4, 2005, the publisher of the River Cities' Reader, the Quad-City Times city-hall reporter, and an Argus/Dispatch journalist strategically positioned themselves outside the doors of City Hall, just as the city attorney unlocked them at 6 p.m., allowing the media through, then re-locking the doors behind them. They had finally gained entrance to the elusive "Governance Committee" meetings.
Such after-hours meetings had been held for months as committee members mulled over ways to limit (eliminate) public input at council and committee meetings beyond the unreasonable obstacles currently in place, including restricting access by requiring the public to register prior to speaking (before they even know what they will have to respond to); cutting mic time at Committee of the Whole Meetings (the last forum before the vote); exploration of gerrymandering ward boundaries; and discussion of the value of cable TV coverage (plug-pulling).
(There was also agreement to allow a committee member to explore selling off $12 million of art - telling a Quad-City Times reporter that "there is no purpose in the city owning this stuff anymore.")
These are all examples of anti-public strategies that appear to be the underlying mission of the (covert) Governance Committee.
Even veteran city-hall reporters and Web-site watchdogs did not know that the Governance Committee existed - until it was on the verge of springing its streamlined council sessions (sans public) for a council committee vote. Not surprisingly, the members of this clandestine group are the usual suspects: dozens of prominent businessmen, bankers, utility-company executives, DavenportOne members, and of course the legal-beagle developers, whose names are synonymous with the 53rd Street fiascoes.
Ordinary folks were soon solicited to sit in the busy dignitaries' empty seats (to help push this Trojan horse across town) in a veiled attempt to hide those who really benefited from the committee's policies, and to create a backfire against the real citizens leading a much-deserved taxpayer' revolt.
Ironically, then-Mayor Charlie Brooke in defending the Governance Committee claimed that membership was open to anyone who wanted to join ( should you happen to learn it existed) and that meetings after 6 p.m. were just a convenience to its busy committee members. (Never mind that the doors were locked prior to the meetings to discourage attendance by all but the sanctioned few who were given entrance at precisely 6 p.m., after which the doors were again locked, keeping any latecomers away. So what if the other 100 seats in the council chambers went empty while the public was locked outside?)
The resulting hullabaloo, once the Governance Committee's clandestine proposals were exposed, caused then-alderman Donna Bushek to resign from the committee, and sent the rest of its members scurrying underground, but not before becoming the catalyst for reform. The public's response was to throw half of the city council out of office in the next election. Not long after, the public sent an equally loud political message by refusing to give future aldermen four-year staggered terms via an overwhelming defeat at the polls.
More recent polls indicate that 70 percent of Davenport's residents (who could easily move to Bettendorf) feel that the council is consistently taking us in the wrong direction. What doesn't this council get about the public's adamant desire to participate in its governance? The public has repeatedly voted down the various attempts to wrestle away our most basic rights to participate in our own city government. We aren't going away, and more importantly, at the end of the day, we are the ones with the final votes.
Now the rumor is that the Governance Committee is back with a new plan to eliminate Thursday committee meetings, moving them to just prior to the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday evenings! It is also rumored that the council intends to implement this with no public notice or discussion, as quickly as is legally possible.
This means that there will be no chance for public involvement, fast-tracking agendas beyond any reasonable time frame. Recall aldermen's past claims that the committee meetings were "where all the heavy lifting is done."
City business, by law, is introduced during one of five standing committee meetings, held every other Thursday between 1 and 5 p.m. From these discussions, agenda items are either tabled for additional committee discussion or moved to the following Monday afternoon's Committee of the Whole meeting for review and discussion by the entire city council. An item can be tabled for further review, or voted up or down in a preliminary vote that is moved to the following Wednesday evening's regular council meeting, where a final vote is taken.
This policy to hold committee meetings the same day as Committee of the Whole meetings is ludicrous in its attempt to completely silence the public. Could it be any more obvious? No reasonable argument exists for claims that, by condensing the two into a matter of hours rather than days, governance would be more efficient. It is a policy of determined laziness and political sloth, and an abuse of our civic rights. This council, recently enough and with public support, voted to give itself a pay raise, only to entertain less work on the public's behalf, and to perpetuate an even further degradation of the public process.
We can hope this is just a terrible rumor, but if it has any validity at all, then citizens must see it stopped by contacting aldermen and letting them know this policy will not be tolerated. The following discussion then should be the dismantling of the Governance Committee, which clearly is of no benefit to the public, whatsoever.