Comment on city administrator’s proposal to limit discussion

Ray Schmitz’s comments regarding staff proposal to limit City Council’s ability to weigh in on Federal issues that affect Rochester.  The city council unanimously killed this 7-0!

The proposal by the city administrator that the council adopt a resolution that the council and mayor “will not consider and will not take any action to support or oppose an issue that is of national significance unless the issue in question has been addressed and endorsed by those national municipal organizations that the City of Rochester is a member of” has a number of logical and practical faults.

Initially it would prevent the Mayor and Council from taking a position requesting action by one or more of those national organizations to which it belongs. The absurd position renders the council and mayor relatively powerless to influence those bodies to which it belongs.

More fundamentally we live in a representative democracy, one of the tenants of the constitution is that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). If the council were to adopt this resolution the right to appear before and request action by the council has been eliminated in advance of any opportunity to petition for action.

This proposal would also be inappropriate since it would attempt to bind the hands of a future council and mayor, you are elected to represent the people of this city and act on their behalf, future councils and mayor may have very different opinions based on the then opinion of the electorate and any attempt to bind their freedom of action is perhaps impossible and certainly presumptuous.

The record shows that the there has been a flurry of activity by the City Administrator to block action on a letter sent to the council by both
the Committee on Urban Design and by the Energy Commission requesting the council take action supporting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action on reducing CO2 levels, he initially asserted that he had the power to block the request by these two city volunteer bodies, failing that he has now suggested this policy step.

It may be that the council would chose not to act on or follow the requests of the bodies but certainly a city staff person should not be able to block their communication with the council and mayor.

The city has a number of appointed bodies advisory to the council or having duties under the City Charter or ordinances. this proposed resolution would bar any of them from presenting a matter to the council that involved a matter of “national significance”. While it is difficult to understand what is meant by that term I have to note the a member of the DMC board recently expressed her opinion the that endeavor is of international significance, would this proposed resolution bar council action on matters involving DMC if they were not part of an action by one of the organizations that have been suggested.

I am sure the the City Administrator is well intentioned in his proposal, and it may be that the council should not be burdened with the consideration of requests to involve the city in matters beyond the scope of its authority and upon which it has difficulty being informed sufficiently to make an educated judgement. The reality is that town boards, city councils, county boards, state legislatures, and congress have since time immemorial been requested to act on matters by their constituents over which they have no authority and little knowledge. Somehow these institution have survived this imposition on their time, and the institution of democracy has and is rendered stronger by the least significant citizen having the right to insist upon being heard.

Ray Schmitz

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