What is the fate of public input at SF City Council meetings?

There has been a little less than a peep from the SF city council since they were chastised for implementing a time limit rule on public testimony during the snowgate special election meeting.

The only thing that has been said is that they will ‘address’ the issue during a work session in March.

Our media has been somewhat quiet about the issue also, except for a short editorial by AL’s editor, Patrick Lalley suggesting we have special meetings for testimony. My suggestion is that the city council just follow city ordinance. No closing of debate unless there is a 2/3 thirds vote by the entire council and allowing 5 minutes per person, per agenda item. Pretty simple.

Heck, when I spoke at the Minnehaha County Commission a few weeks back, they had no time limits, but just asked we ‘keep it brief’. We also had great interaction with the commissioners, in which we asked questions back and forth. They also listened and were split on their decision. I can hardly say that about the city council, that seems to be run by one person, Council Chair Michelle Erpenbach who is getting her marching orders from the Mayor.

There is a rumor floating around that the council is considering revisiting putting public testimony to the end of the meeting.

Where does all of this animosity towards the VOCAL public come from? I told someone the other night that I felt it stems from a certain citizen showing up each week at the council meeting (Tim Stenga) and calling the council and mayor out on their BS. I think it came to a boiling point when the mayor and Stenga had a heated exchange in the parking lot after a meeting (in which Stenga called Mike a ‘Rich Snob’). The council doesn’t want the public telling them how to do their job, and they certainly don’t want to be exposed for lying, or for what they really are, ‘Rich Snobs’.

This pushback is common from people who have something to hide. If the council and mayor were on the up and up, they could care less how many Tim Stengas showed up to the meetings.

Do I think there is rabid corruption going on in city government? Maybe a little, but I attribute it more to incompetent city employees, power hungry city directors and a city council and mayor that are controlled by their own greed and special interests. They just don’t have time for the Tim Stengas of the world. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the pudding. Over 8,000 voters asked for a special election this Spring, and not only did they refuse to hold the election, they limited our testimony. When was the last time Craig Lloyd or any other developer in town had to get over 5,000 valid signatures to receive a TIF or tax funded landscaping? Never.

Who do you think our mayor and city council works for?

As for limiting public testimony, this will eventually blow up in their faces. When government officials on any level  thumb their noses at a constitutional right, free speech, they are asking for a backlash. If you think Detroit Lewis and his foot soldiers have decided to give up on this issue, you are sadly mistaken. More to come.


#1 hmr59 on 01.31.13 at 12:39 pm

Hmmm, we have MMM, Erpenbach, Rolfing, Karsky, Entenman, Daugaard, and Gant as elected officals in this city/state (not counting several “WTF is going on in that mind” state legislators and a school board that lives in fear of it’s own employee). Tells you all you need to know…

As for the local media: Argus – advertisers don’t care, KELO – too busy redesigning their website (and doing stories about it), KSFY – probably trying to figure out how to redesign their own website w/o looking like they are panicking, and KDLT – well, God bless ’em, but…

#2 Scott on 01.31.13 at 1:44 pm

That’s funny, hmr. One of the worst KELO fallback stories are those they do on themselves. Whenever they get a new laptop it seems like they have to prop it up as a top story. Are we supposed to think, “Oh great, you eliminated the need for a cameraman with your new jetpacks.”

#3 GregN on 01.31.13 at 3:18 pm

As I said in a comment I posted to “100 eyes” a few weeks back (paraphrasing) – the amount of public input allowed is directly proportional to the extent to which the council agrees with the proposal/subject. Unfortunately some on the council, leadership included, just don’t think they should have to listen to other viewpoints. One thing you’ll see at meetings if you go to one in person is the eye rolling and dismissive looks certain councilors make.
I’ve got to know Tim Stanga pretty well over the last several months/year. Even if you don’t agree with him on some/most/all of his viewpoints (I do agree with him on most things but we respectfully disagree on other things) one thing you have to give him big props for is calling out city leaders and holding them accountable and asking tough questions. That takes courage. If you have noticed, recently he’s been more balanced. There are a few people I’ll not name who gently suggested he might get a better reception and hearing if he didn’t just simply come up with a list of negatives/complaints, so if you watch closely recently he’s more balanced pointing out good things as well. But he’s still not afraid to take people on.
I actually get a sort of guilty pleasure when I see him and even more I.L. walk on up because I see how mad it makes some of the councilors and the Mayor. Even if I think they are way off base, its pretty enjoyable to watch, simply because leaders/elected officials shouldn’t expect to have lemmings who drop at their feet. Its probably too easy for elected leaders to believe their own hype when they stay in the bubble. They should be asked tough questions, given credit when its due, but always accountable.
As far as having a working session on this, the only thing I can see coming out of this given this council is something that limits public input even more. On the board I sit on, we have public testimony for every case. Our rules are simple. Input from interested parties is welcome. We just ask that it be relevant and not duplicating (new and different). In other words, keep to the topic at issue, and don’t send a parade of people up one after another if they are going to say exactly the same thing. There is no hard time limit for any citizen. In my I think almost two years on that board, I can think of only once or twice where the chairman actually cut someone off, and that was after maybe 5 minutes of rambling testimony where the person had clearly lost control and was running on with a diatribe about all facets of city government that we have absolutely no jurisdiction over and had no relevance to the case at hand. There is wide latitude granted. Open public input at a council meeting is different where the subject is wide open (citizen chooses what to talk about) but it would seem the principal is the same – encourage public input, good or bad, use common sense and err on the side of too much.
I guess the only “problem” we have is the fact that council leadership has an intolerance problem – they are intolerant far too often of viewpoints that they don’t agree with. If they didn’t set arbitrary time limits there really wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is really of their own creation, unequal treatment. You can’t allow an hour+ of testimony from tennis/hockey people asking for money at the budget/CIP meeting, and then decide to severely limit snow gate discussion.
I guess last point, as someone whose watched every council meeting for 7 plus years I guess it is now, is this really a problem? Many weeks no one even goes up to speak at input. Most weeks its maybe 1 or 2 people at best. What’s the problem? There is no problem I think. I guess it seems to me if you really can’t take the possibility that a meeting might run past say 8:30 you might simply choose not to run for council. Also, if a city employee has to wait 10 extra minutes so be it. It’s probably good for them to listen to what their customers, and the people who pay their salaries, think, no?

#4 GregN on 01.31.13 at 3:19 pm

Not until I posted that comment did I realize how much I typed – sorry. I’m slipping back into my book writing habits again…

#5 l3wis on 01.31.13 at 4:07 pm

I have often said that if you don’t like getting paid over $15,000 a year for a part-time elected job, do as Greg suggested, don’t run for council, or better yet, resign. The weekly meeting is part of the gig, whether it goes 40 minutes or 4 hours, tough cookie. I have never understood Michelle wanting to time these meetings. If you need a recess to go potty, then take a recess, but don’t limit the time constituents can speak.

#6 GregN on 01.31.13 at 4:44 pm

I’ve also noted that the chances of getting a response from many councilors by email is directly related to whether they agree with you or not. Or in some cases don’t hold your breath – they never respond.

#7 Joan on 01.31.13 at 5:40 pm

Talking about the local TV stations, I get real tired of seeing various anchors, playing with laptops, smartphones, demonstrating various apps, and then there is the tablet or whatever it is that Angela on KELO holds part of the time. I would rather see them use teleprompters or something, other than looking like kids playing with their electronic things.

#8 Detroit Lewis on 01.31.13 at 9:28 pm

I like watching Angela play with toys 🙂

Anyhoo . . .

Greg – That reminds me of the time I emailed Bob Jamison when he suggested taxing cable TV more because it was a ‘Luxury’. I told him that I agree, but why stop there? We should tax luxury homes and vehicles at a higher rate in SF to. He never responded.

#9 anominous on 01.31.13 at 10:04 pm

Can you guys get Tim to do a Rant-a-Bit episode?

#10 Detroit Lewis on 01.31.13 at 10:27 pm

That idea has been thrown around a few times. I think Hud and I could just hand him the mic and let him go to town.

And just for correction of my more ‘Crass’ followers, Tim called Mike a ‘Rich Pr**k’ not a snob. I was trying to be more PC.

#11 Scott on 01.31.13 at 10:54 pm

I’m in!

#12 Detroit Lewis on 02.01.13 at 10:29 am

I found this interesting;


Maybe the SF city council should move the pledge of allegiance and opening prayer to the end of the meeting also. Why do pastors get to do their invocation before developers get a chance to pitch their latest taxpayer funded bailout?

#13 Scott on 02.01.13 at 10:59 am

God wants them to get their TIFS.

#14 anominous on 02.01.13 at 11:43 am

The Mayor and his council should just have a trap door installed to sort out the rejects from the true, upright citizen-suppliants. It would save the council so much of their precious time. They wouldn’t have the need to parse words or prevaricate to the rabble. Just a thought.

#15 Pathloss on 02.02.13 at 10:49 am

We suffer from shanghai mayor at every occassion. What bothers me is how he’s ignored a petition signed by 8,400 citizens. The next petition should be a mandate for a full independant outside audit of events center finances including bond money received, competitive bids (none), and forbearance (received but not spent on the events center). There should be a comparison with Lincoln NE to see how much more our events center is costing. It will be easy to see which councilors are corrupt from the vote against this petition.

#16 Detroit Lewis on 02.02.13 at 12:44 pm

They are all in it for self interest. To be honest with you, the only councilor I have not seen benefit personally from the council seat is Staggers. And trust me, I have tried to find something.