I attended the Code of Ethics work session held by the subcommittee which was formed to slice and dice the sample codes down into a ready to wear size. It was interesting to be sure.
Staff pulled the codes for a couple other cities including the award winning Sugarland one, the one the employees signed, and the dreaded Frisco code. You remember that one; it’s the code that people like Councilman Rick White, Councilwoman Kathy Spillyards, and Mayor Pro Tem Red Byboth claimed in the work session late 2010 and again at the retreat early 2011 is the reason they don’t want one because it was problematic. Well guess what? That code was fixed in 2009. My that’s interesting. So in the past, was staff only pulling the one prior to the ‘fixed’ one? Were they ignoring the fixed one in order to prove their point that they didn’t need a code? Oh no they dih-int. Oh and just so you know the same lawyer who worked on the Frisco code will also be working on ours. I’ll let you ponder that one for a while.
The very first sticking point during the meeting became the texting during meetings issue. Though Mayor Hogue and Councilwoman Culver both agreed that texting should not be taking place, Councilman Jones actually sided on the side of Mayor Pro Tem Red Byboth on this issue. Evidently both Byboth and Jones believe that it is perfectly acceptable for council to text someone during a meeting. Jones said it takes place all the time in Dallas as they text staff for clarification. Last time I checked, this was Wylie. Jones also went on to say that the issue of texting during the meeting was just petty. Well that’s all fine and well if you aren’t one of those lacking common sense and you never do it, but for those who are a bit horse-sense challenged, there needs to be a rule. This texting freely and at will attitude really just goes hand in hand with the idea that they are council, they are God, and they can do whatever the hell they please and if anyone questions them, we are nuts, or clueless. What-evs. Hold on there a minute, I think those black helicopters that were circling overhead are about to land on a wobbly stack of cow patties.
I take all sorts of issue with this stance. Firstly, if council has a question, they should look to the city manager for an answer. They shouldn’t be contacting say, Stephanie Storm to ask her what she thinks. She reports to Mindy Manson the city manager. There is a chain of command, no? Additionally, I have never ever witnessed Ms. Manson come to a meeting unprepared. Frankly, if she doesn’t know an answer and someone needs to be contacted then have her do the texting. Duh. Manson is not sitting on council making decisions, she can text and web-surf away as far as I’m concerned. But she won’t because she is dutiful and diligent in her job, as she should be.
As far as personal calls, really they should be limited to emergencies and Mayor Hogue and Councilwoman Culver agreed. Then again if you are running your own business, as in the case of Byboth, and every call is subjectively deemed an emergency, then simply excuse yourself. Done. That is just plain common sense and something that can seriously be lacking at times.
I still hold steadfast to the notion that when business is taking place up there, council should not have their eyes downturned and glued to their phone, laptop, iPad, or whatever. As a citizen, if I come up there to address you, I expect you to be listening. It is the height of arrogance and incredibly rude for a citizen to watch you texting or surfing the iPad because you are bored or have something else on your mind. Even if it is related to the topic being addressed, it is rude, rude, rude. What you have ultimately done is to make the citizen feel insignificant and unheard.
Personally, I have received texts from two individuals up there during a meeting and to be brutally honest, it pisses me off to no end. I refuse to answer that nonsense. Oh yes, Councilman Jones thinks it’s OK to text because the public can just FOIA the information. Is this the ultimate ‘I double dog dare you’? Go ahead, make a request. This is the response I received from Byboth when I requested his texts during one meeting. Rather than answer my information request, Byboth gave me hell about it, telling me he’s not providing it, but I persisted and so he told me generally what was written and with whom and then he asked me not to share who because it could cause issues with that individual within the city, so I gave my word not to say who. Ultimately I canceled the request but perhaps I shouldn’t have. Shouldn’t the public know who he was texting with and what was said? After all, it took place during an open meeting.
Similarly, to Jones’ way of thinking, this open meeting thingy just about covers it all. Under the open meetings act we can request the information if we witness an offending text. Ludicrous, especially since this gives of the oily appearance that something is awry when council wishes to make secret texts in hopes that nobody will ‘trouble’ themselves writing up a request. This is tantamount to council conducting themselves in any manner they feel like, damn what the public thinks because, hey, they won’t bother doing the work.
I fought this one for you peeps, you can request texts and phone bills from council even if it was made on their personal phones and yes you can thank me later for it because I guarantee it is cause for pause. Despite that, the notion that the public can just exercise the crap out of City Secretary Carol Ehrlich and her staff every time someone is spied texting during a council meeting is ridiculous, redundant, and a waste of taxpayer money. I will never be moved to believe that holding a FOIA up as my own personal cross is a good thing. If the meeting is truly open, then keep it so and ask the question of staff sitting right there with you and have some discourse about that request. Sending a text to Mindy while you are sitting up there is truly sending a wrong message.
I will be interested to see if this tiny texting portion makes its way through the council gauntlet and actually on paper. More reporting to come.