City council meetings shouldn’t need a Parental Advisory warning, but such is the case with the Gardner City Council, whose last meeting ended when the Mayor shouted “That’s bull——” at another council member.
But it wasn’t just the language that was an embarrassment. From start to finish the Gardner City Council meeting on June 20 was disgraceful.
The disconcerting behavior started early. Several residents addressed the council with concerns about the city’s animal ordinance which allows pit bulls in town. Council members discussed changing the ordinance to ban the breed of dog, but they never voted on the issue.
Council member Larry Fotovich’s request to have the item placed on an upcoming council meeting agenda was soundly rejected, although the Mayor did say he would put the item on a work session agenda. When Fotovich asked the city’s attorney whether he could make a motion to have it put on a future agenda, the city attorney advised that the mayor wouldn’t have to entertain the motion.
We find the attorney’s advice outrageous. Although Mayor Dave Drovetta sets the city council agendas, it is inexcusable that should a majority of council members request an item be placed on an agenda, he could deny that. It’s not good government; it discourages public input and the ability of council members to represent voters.
Elected officials should work at the will of the — taxpayers. Not the mayor. Not city staff. Not us.
Throughout the entire meeting, Council member Dennis Pugh needled Fotovich from the sidelines. He wasn’t speaking into the microphone, but throughout all discussion, Pugh continued to say things like, “You said you’re going to tell the Mayor ‘no’ in your campaign, I’m going to tell Larry Fotovich ‘no.’
Heckling is distracting in any meeting – especially when it is coming from elected officials.
In a public meeting, conversations between council members should be kept to a minimum. Words should be spoken into the microphone for every meeting participant and observer to hear. Otherwise, there is very little point to open meetings.
And, as “chair,” the mayor should discourage such behavior.
Later, theMayor lectured Council member Chris Morrow for asking questions. Council members should be allowed to ask questions, as many and as often as they want. And they should get an answer more often than not.
However, frequently in this meeting as in others, specific questions about the issue at hand are answered by staff with: “I don’t have that information in front of me” and a shoulder shrug.
Currently, staff works at the will of the mayor, and they know it. After more than a decade on the council, and his first term as mayor, Mayor Drovetta presides over his staff like a Papa Bear, finding offense whenever a question is raised. Asking questions when the city has financial woes should not be personalized; being fiscally responsible is what elected officials should do.
We agree a council should not micromanage, but we also believe staff should show respect for the voters’ representatives. Little quips such as “We’re not going to go into that,” are unacceptable. Failure to provide information is unacceptable. Taking a councilmember to task in a public forum – whether or not an analogy was offensive – is inappropriate.
Can you imagine staff members berating Ford’s board of directors in a public meeting?
Expressing offense in an open meeting to a council member is unacceptable. Concerns should be brought up privately and without righteous indignation. The issue should not have been personalized.
Finally, we take issue with the Mayor standing and walking over to another council member while using inappropriate language and pointing in his face. What’s next? A fist fight?
He should contact former Mayor Carol Lehman about how to chair a meeting. Although we didn’t always agree with her decisions, she had grace under pressure.