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.

6 Responses to “St. Cloud City Council’s transparency”

  • Vince Schaefer says:

    As someone who has spent almost 32 years in public office I totally agree with you . Transparency in government should be a number one priority for any elected official.

  • John Palmer says:

    The city council is a body elected to represent the people. Each council member has an obligation to do just what George has been doing. Council members do not give up their First Amendment rights when they are sworn in they swear they will support and defend the Constitution. The councilmen who voted to censure George have violated their oath of office.

  • eric z says:

    From the post, and no other knowledge of that governing body, but with knowledge of town councils in general and where I live, Ramsey, Anoka County, the more that is on camera, the better. The exception to open meetings, debate of potential contract matters where the other side may watch and take advantage, has been misused but at least has a rationale. This St. Cloud thing looks like power going to the heads of a majority. Covering tracks is always suspect. On the 9/11 aniversary, there was much there that sunshine might have shown upon, but kept dark. Sunshine IS the best disinfectant – a cliche by now but a clear and tight explanation when first articulated.

  • Gary Gross says:

    Eric, the reason why I love clichés is because they’re truth. Still, you’re right about the more that’s on camera, the better. Speaking from personal experience with this bunch, there’s a handful of councilmembers who are definitely control freaks.

  • Paul A Brandmire says:

    As you are fully aware, I was the other vote of “no” regarding the turning off of the cameras. I acknowledge there are several good reasons to turn them off, and several to leave them on. I voted to leave them on. Regardless, the majority voted to turn them off and I respected that decision — for now. We can always bring it up again in the near future. Regarding the censure, the rules were written years ago while only two of the existing council members were on that council — Hontos was one of them and voted for them. The rule of respecting the majority vote is designed to prevent anarchy and respect the democracy of the majority. The time for debate and discussion is during the hearing prior to the vote. Once the vote is conducted, it is the council’s decision. Seeking to undermine the vote of the council (as a disgruntled individual) is not in the best interest of anyone. If as an mid-level officer, the colonel told me to do something, even something with which I disagreed, I saluted smartly and I passed the order on to the sergeant. If he then told the troops this is BS and that I am wrong, even if he carried out the task, is detrimental to good order and would not be condoned. I’d have his head on a platter most quick. Finally, if George doesn’t like the rule, we should change the rule, not ignore it.

  • Gary Gross says:

    Paul, regarding the rules, those were rewritten just 2-3 years ago. Hontos was on the committee that rewrote them, if I recall correctly. As for the private session rule, that’s got to get rewritten. Other than for keeping personnel matters confidential, that business needs to be public.

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