Friday, July 18, 2008

Public Comment at City Council Meetings

Here is a summary, by Marilyn Wellons, of last evening's hearing held by the City of Cambridge's Ordinance Committee to review the Council's rules on public comment:

Vice Mayor Murphy and Councillor Maher were co-chairs.

Mayor Simmons began by explaining her Policy Order about public comment that precipitated the hearing. It's useful to review policies like these from time to time.

Councillor Toomey and others, notably Councillors Murphy and Maher, were very keen on a meeting's efficiency, on the theory that working people need to get home in good time, having had their say at a predictable hour, rather than as the topics come up on the agenda.Councillor Toomey: the status quo works much better than its predecessors. The [tv-viewing] public at home wants to see a well-run Council meeting.

Councillor Maher: predictability and efficiency are paramount. People should be able to speak in a reasonable amount of time. Lots happens in the Council's committee meetings and this is an opportune, alternative time for public comment.

Mayor Simmons agreed.

Several praised Mayor Simmons for running the meetings well. [Councillor Reeves was not in attendance.]

Councillor Davis was, like Nixon, concerned with the people who don't show up and don't speak (silent majority?). She wants people to feel welcome, and longer public comment will further deter those who don't already come. They don't want to spend hours at a Council meeting.

Councillor Kelley says the status quo sort of works. Meetings should start on time at 5:30 or they should change the start time to when Councillors can be there. He wants people to be able to comment on items not on the Council or Manager's agenda. Councillors should make themselves available outside of meetings, read all e-mails, but that's very hard. Consequently public comment at Council meetings is important.

Vice Mayor Murphy and others wonder if giving people a choice of speaking at the beginning of the meeting or at another point after the Manager's Agenda would be useful.

Beyond the people who are always saying "something's rotten in Denmark," there are people with expertise about trash collection or building codes, for example, who have useful things to say.

At 3-4 hearings a year, reviewing departments--Public Works was his example--there could be "valuable exchange of information."

In public comment, Bill Cunningham, speaking personally, noted the history of shrinking public comment at Council meetings. TV broadcast pushes people to compact their comments. Earlier rules allowed the public "real participation," to speak to items as they came up. Current rules separate public comment from the Council's business and put it together with cultural presentations, for a kind of "circus" before the Council gets down to work.

Elie Yarden noted the effort it takes for many people to come to meetings. For example, there was an air quality alert yesterday, but he decided to come to the hearing anyway. He reminded the Council of groups of neighbors in public comment who educated the Council about issues like the Polaroid site. I was glad to hear the Mayor's explanation of her Order, hoped public comment would be expanded. I had thought the move was to restrict it further, given shrinking public involvement and the Council's move to delegate contentious items to the appointed boards since 1980. Councillors compete for the job, are paid a nice salary, have paid assistants, fine offices, and they give the impression listening to the public at Council meetings interferes with business. Real democracy can mean messy meetings with public comment that takes time.

Steve Kaiser criticized speakers who hadn't done their homework, didn't know what they were talking about.

Mayor Simmons liked that. It's difficult to listen to speakers who aren't organized, she said, but then "we do that ourselves."

Robert Winters seconded Kaiser's criticism. He thought segregating public comment was an unintended consequence of the 1999 rule change. It would be useful to allow the public to speak to an agenda item when it comes up.

Councillor Seidel said he found public comment the most interesting part of the meetings. Bless his heart, he said not everyone needs to be an expert. Alone among the Councillors, he said he appreciates it if people come with something on their mind, that they take the time to come. [Mind you, this is his first term.]

Councillor Seidel liked the possibility of public comment after the Manager's agenda. He thinks that's a "natural place" for it and it would be helpful for "us to have a break in the meeting" at that point. "People here tonight should know we listen."

After the meeting broke up and I'd already left the chamber, I remembered Councillor Seidel's amazing comments. I went back in to thank him. He was alone at his desk, the others were schmoozing. I thanked him, said he was the only one who said such things, important things--which he then reaffirmed.

Please feel free to comment on this blog...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Seniors and trucks compete for space on Street across from City Hall!

Seniors forced into street with cars, trucks and busses. This is another example of the City of Cambridge's "Open Pit Policy." Please note there are NO barrels to seperate pedestrians from moving traffic nor from stumbeling into that trench.

When the sidewalk is obstructed by construction like this, is a permit required? Should not care be provided to protect the pedestrians that are forced into the street? June 20, 4:29pm.

Cambridge Police Permit Bicycles to Run Red Light

Photo above shows a bike and a car stopped at red light when another bike comes along and fails to stop, running the light. The police officers take no action. The bike rider can clearly be seen looking up Inman street to see if there is oncoming traffic that needs to be avoided. The police did pull over a car for a traffic violation, but none of the bikes that ran the red light.

The photo shows the other police officer observing the traffic at the intersection. He sees the bike running the red light but takes no action. He informed me that only bike officers ticket bike riders. I then called the desk and was informed that the police were assigned to Mass Ave and Inman to enforce traffic laws, but not to enforce them on bikes, only cars. He told me they were assigned to do cars, not bikes.
(Photos taken June 20, 2008, at 5:23pm and 5:26pm.)

So, what message does this send bike riders? You can run the red light right in front of Cambridge Police officers, who will give you a nod?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Where do you park your bicycle?

The photo above shows a bike parked on top of a huge snow pile, and chained to a MBTA bus stop sign. One of the most overlooked needs in Cambridge is bicycle parking. In City Council, tonight, is the City Manager's response, agenda item # 8 to a March 3, 2008 policy order, , requesting info re bike parking.
One modifcation we are requesting is to ban bicycle parking by chaining biles to dedicated handicapped parking signs. PWDs need to have room to manouver to get wheelchairs, walkers, or canes into the trunks of their cars, or into the back seats.
Another concern we have is the City's attention to providing bike parking in downtown locations, but not in neighborhoods. We need to provide handy, convenient and safe bike park areas in neighborhoods.
Therefore, I recommend that the City Manager's agenda item #8 be referred to the Transportation Committee to examine possible modifications.
Where do you park your bike?






Thursday, January 3, 2008

MAAB holds hearings re City of Cambridge sidewalks at Erie St, Pearl at Decatur St, Green at Hancock St.

I filed several complaints against the City of Cambridge for repairing, reconstructing, sidewalks in violation of both State Safety Code and the ADA. The City replied by assigning an attorney to defend the indefensible. Spending our hard earned tax dollars to fix the sidewalks wrong. The City tried to deny the Access Board had jurisdiction.

The photo above and the two below are snapshots of the site visit the Access Board conducted in the face of the City's stonewalling. Please see state law on this...

Chapter 30A: Section 11B. Studies of state boards, commissions and authorities; notice to city or town affected
Section 11B. All state boards and commissions and the governing boards or bodies of all such authorities which conduct a study affecting or relating to the use of an area of a city or town shall notify the mayor or city manager, if any, of the city and the presiding officer of the city council, or the chairman of the board of selectmen of the town, of the study and shall invite their participation therein. No determination shall be made and no results of the study shall be released to the public until such notification has been given with a reasonable opportunity to participate in it.

Click on the photos to enlarge so you can see the site report.

The hearings will be held at the Mass Arch Access Board

One Ashburton Place, Boston MA

21st Floor...use the high rise elevator, second bank of elevators

One Ashburton Place is on top of Beacon Hill, around the block from the state house...take red line to park, walk up Park st, take right, then left along the side of the State House, then take a right at end of the block, and right across the street is One Ashburton Place.

Erie St at 3pm-3:30pm

Pearl at Decatur St at 3:30pm-4pm

Green at Hancock St at 4pm-4:30pm

Hope to see you there.

Quick fix crosswalk disapears during snow storm

The photo above shows the city of cambridg's quick fix of the Intersection of Pearl and Decatur street running up to the public hearing schedualled by the Mass Arch Access Board for the complaint I filed. The City has covered over the original crosswalk markings and added new markings, masking serious compliance issues.

The photos above and below, taken December 23rd, 10 days after the snow storm and 3 weeks after the fake crosswalk fix was executed. It shows that the sidewalk markings are already disapearing.

The photo above, Dec 27th, and the one below, Dec 31st, show more wearing away of the phony crosswalk, and of course, folks have no idea what to do with the heavy street snow the City plowed into the curb ramps that the abutters had previously shoveled. These photos were taken after the major snow removal opperation on Pearl St.

Your tax dollars are paying for this useless and unlawful work.

Should We Oppose The Use Of Ethanol As Fuel?

Hybrid Taxicab Hearing – The Cambridge License Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposal to establish a Cambridge hybrid taxicab program to be called “Cambridge Clean Air Cabs.” The hearing will be held on Tuesday, January 8, 6:00 pm, in the Basement Conference Room of the Lombardi Building at 831 Massachusetts Avenue. The proposals includes a commitment by Whole Foods Market to provide grant funds for $15,000 in 2007 and $15,000 in 2008 for grants of $5,000 per taxicab medallion to owners who convert to a hybrid vehicle and a hybrid taxicab medallion auction, the proceeds of which will be used to provide grants of $10,000 per medallion for conversions to hybrid vehicles. The License Commission is responsible for the issuance of hackney licenses in the city.

Should we oppose the use of ethanol as fuel when we mandate Hybrid Taxis? There has been quite a bit of research on this issue. Please do a google search for ethanol unintended consequences, and check it out.

Here are a couple I found of interest...

Opposition To City's Motion for Reconsideration Submitted

Cambridge Mayor Ken Reeves and City Councillor Decker want to ban dogs, all dogs, including guide dogs for the blind, from public meetings In City Council because, they claim, the presence of a guide dog is a direct threat to the health of Councillor Decker, and is equivilent to the health threat of the presence of cigarrette smoke.
This issue has been previously reported on my blog,
On Oct 16th, 2006, I agreed to change my seat because Councillor Decker had stoped taking her meds due to allergy testing the following morning. On Oct 30, 2006, when I arrived for the city Council meeting I went immediately to the agreed on seating. 45 min into the meeting, Councillor Decker interrupted the meeting, and, without calling for a recess, told me I had to leave the meeting or she would have me removed. The reason? She was not taking her allergy meds due to testing the following morning.
The Chair, who is Mayor Reeves, blamed me for interrupting the meeting. Please note, I do not have the power to call for a recess myself. He called for the police to have me removed. Then Councillor Decker then returned to her seat and called for a recess, which Mayor Reeves granted.
In the interest of time, please see wnat transpired in the story at From The Port. briefly, I filed a disability discrimination complaint with Mass Commission Against Discrimination, MCAD, after it was reccomended to me to do so by an important and well respected leader in Cambridge. The City responded with a Position Statement, and I had to write a Rebuttal. I submitted my rebuttal in spring 2006, it is 60 pages and an additional dozens od documents in exibit as evidence.
The photo above is my rebuttal.
In Oct 2007 the Commission issued a finding of Probable Cause and set a date for a settlement. If the parties can settle, then a hearing can be avoided. However, the City responded with a Motion For Reconsideration of the probable Cause Finding, early November. I have just submitted my Opposition on Jan 2, 2008.
At issue is wether or not the presence of guide dogs, service dogs, can be considered a direct threat equivilent to cigarrette smoke.
So, what do you all think? This is not being decided by legislation, public opinion nor a vote by City Council. It is an action by tw0 people, mayor ken reeves and Councillor Decker, who believe that the presence of service dogs in a public meeting is dangerous to the health of people. It is somewhat frustrating that the same councillor does not see leaf blowers as a health threat.
We await now, for the decision of the Commission on this motion. I will keep you updated as best I can.