Archive for the ‘Mike Conway’ Category

For years, conservatives have said that most decisions should be made at the local level. That’s what’s recommended by the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s because that’s where accountability is theoretically greatest.

That’s increasingly not the case. I don’t know if this is isolated but a prime example of local governments shielding themselves from criticism happens when they shut off the cameras. A prime example of this is the St. Cloud City Council turning off the cameras and officially adjourning the meeting before starting Open Forum. For those not familiar with St. Cloud’s Open Forum, it’s a segment of the meeting when citizens have the opportunity to talk about things that they see happening in their neighborhoods.

Most of these speeches complain about overreaching ordinances, complaints about things not getting done fast enough or criticisms about votes that councilmembers have taken. Suffice it to say, it isn’t fun for the councilmembers to hear these criticisms. Another ‘feature’ of St. Cloud’s Open Forum is that the City Council isn’t allowed to respond in real time to their constituents.

Where’s the accountability if the Council isn’t allowed to respond to their constituents? That’s why I’ve titled this post ‘the accountability dodge”. Based on what I’ve seen firsthand, this segment of the meeting isn’t about listening to the citizens. It’s a segment of the meeting where citizens can vent but where the councilmembers don’t have to respond.

This is just a theory but this feels like a way to avoid accountability. It’s apparent that the City Council, with a couple of exceptions (specifically, George Hontos and Paul Brandmire), would rather just meet, then cast their votes, then go their merry way. The quote from yesterday’s post that Councilman Hontos had violated City Council Rule No. 6 was particularly upsetting.

I don’t have the text of St. Cloud City Council Rule No. 6 in front of me but what I know about the Constitution is that anything that violates the First Amendment is unenforceable. Therefore, Rule No. 6 is unenforceable.

Further, I’d argue that voting on a non-binding censure resolution was a total waste of time, partially because it’s non-binding but also because this vote was taken in private session. That’s the ultimate in not accepting accountability. If City Councilmembers think this is important to vote on, they shouldn’t shut down public debate. They should vote in public, though.

That isn’t accountability. That’s the definition of gutlessness.

It’s apparent that the City Council doesn’t value transparency. They talk a good game but their words are empty at best. First, the City Council changed the rules governing the open forum section of the meeting. Instead of letting a maximum of 5 people speak up to 3 minutes each on the topic of their choosing at the end of the meeting, the City Council changed the rules to adjourn the meeting first, then host the open forum after the cameras have been turned off.

Citizens were told that they wanted to do that to protect people who didn’t want to speak in front of the cameras. That’s total BS. That’s been part of the full meeting for years. Those citizens know that they’re being videotaped. From the times that I’ve spoken during that segment, I’ve never seen anyone who looked uncomfortable. Frankly, there aren’t that many people watching the City Council meetings so it isn’t like these citizens have reason to be frightened. That doesn’t mean that the things discussed during this part of the meeting are insignificant. It’s just that the viewing audience was that big.

Next, censuring a person doesn’t mean a thing. It has the impact of a resolution. It’s totally non-binding. Why should city councilpeople get upset when they’re criticized for the votes they’ve made? If you can’t stand the heat, don’t visit the kitchen.

I contacted Councilman Hontos to see if he’d like to make a statement for this post. He graciously accepted the invitation. Here’s his statement, published verbatim and without editing of any sort:

I pride myself as being a respectful, engaged council member who listens.
I am disappointed at the Council’s decision, which says more about it than me.
Providing factual information to the public about the Council’s decisions to the media is not a violation.
A Council is not a corporate board, America is built on the vigorous debate of ideas.
Our City faces many important issues, jobs, housing, diversity. The Council should stay focused on these issues and not distractions.
Furthermore, the first amendment gives everyone the freedom of speech. Just as our Supreme Court makes a ruling usually a dissenting opinion is written and published.
I will continue to represent the constituents of St. Cloud as I have been doing for 18 years. I want to thank all the positive feedback I have received. The people elected me for almost two decades now to ask the hard questions and to tackle tough issues.
George Hontos

Councilman Hontos is right. The Council’s decision says more about them than it says about him. What it says about them isn’t flattering, in my opinion.

Councilman Hontos is also right in stating that “America is built on the vigorous debate of ideas.” The day our elected people can’t stand transparency and vigorous, substantive debate is the day we’d need a major overhaul of our government. Hopefully, that won’t be required. This paragraph frightens me a little:

Conway cited rule No. 6, which states council members “respect the majority vote of the council, and do not undermine or sabotage implementation of ordinances, policies and rules passed by the majority.”

If that’s the total content of Rule # 6, then that rule needs to be eliminated. That sounds more like a speech code for collegiate snowflakes on campus. If one of the councilmembers disagrees with someone, then that councilmember should have the right to express that disagreement in any forum whatsoever. If the council has made a mistake and the individual highlights that mistake, then the individual councilmember has done the city a favor. (Yes, that means that the majority is sometimes wrong.)

If Councilman Hontos runs for re-election, he’ll have my vote. Councilman Hontos is one of 3 at-large councilmembers that represent the entire city. Now that Councilman Johnson has left the Council, the need for someone that “ask[s] the hard questions and … tackle[s] tough issues” is needed now more than ever.

In conclusion, I’ll simply state that it’s my opinion that the only reason for putting in a rule like that is to protect spineless councilmembers. It isn’t to keep confidential information confidential.

One thing that I didn’t mention when I wrote this post is the importance of constitutional republics. Without that system of government, what you’d really have is mob rule.

Let’s refresh your memory on what happened Monday night at the St. Cloud City Council meeting. BTW, why is so much happening at city council meetings this week? We’ll return to that later. At Monday night’s St. Cloud City Council meeting, members of various DFL front groups showed up with an anti-election agenda. Some of the DFL partisans asked for Paul Brandmire and Mike Conway to resign from their council positions. Others from these DFL front groups petitioned the Council to kick Mssrs. Brandmire and Conway off the Council.

The reason for those actions wasn’t specifically stated but it’s pretty clear why these DFL front groups want Brandmire and Conway gone. Both of these gentlemen have done their job by asking questions about the refugee resettlement program.

The crowd included members from the East Central Area Labor Council, TakeAction Minnesota and #UniteCloud, according to Jane Conrad, field representative for East Central Labor Council. Conrad called out council members Brandmire, who was quoted in the New York Times story, and Conway for being publicly sympathetic to the C-Cubed group that she calls “anti-refugee and anti-Muslim.”

It’s worth noting that C-Cubed isn’t funded by special interests. It isn’t an AstroTurf organization. It’s a legitimate grass roots organization. By comparison, TakeAction Minnesota, #UniteCloud and the East Central Area Labor Council are DFL front groups.

It’s worth noting that Jane Conrad is a longtime DFL activist/operative.

Owen Saucedo, a St. Cloud resident, spoke on behalf of the labor council. He asked both Brandmire and Conway to resign and if not, for the city council to censure them to show “it rejects bigotry in all its forms.”

That’s pretty drastic. There’s nothing bigoted about Brandmire or Conway. I’ve known both men a fair amount of time. I wouldn’t hesitate a split-second to state under oath that these men are men of integrity and not men with hostile animus.

Conrad and Saucedo both talked of Islamophobia and racism. How shameful. That’s the language of desperate people. It’s unsubstantiated. Worst of all, it’s the language of people who aren’t interested in winning a debate. Conrad especially just wants to win fights.

Winning a debate requires the ability to listen, persuasive logic and an understanding of what principles are most essential for the health of a society. Winning a fight just means being the biggest, baddest bad-ass in the fight. Right now, these DFL front groups aren’t equipped to win debates. They’re built to win fights. Winning fights is for juveniles. Winning debates is for adults.

In the meantime, I’ll just thank our Founding Fathers for giving us a constitutional republic, not mob rule.