Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Part I: Big Bird, Mill Mountain and smaller government

Poor Big Bird looks to get his feathers plucked should presidential Republican candidate Mitt Romney get the November nod. It’s for sure those PBS dollars are the cause of the $16 trillion deficit and you know Big Bird is a <gasp> liberal. You can tell by the way he walks.

The Mill Mountain Advisory Committee is a drain on city resources say city council members Dave Trinkle, Ray Ferris and Vice Mayor Court Rosen. Ferris’ critiqued the minutes of their meetings and was unimpressed. There are other organizations doing much of the same work he said.

I smell the foundation being laid for another stab at an Inn, restaurant or some other grand scheme in the offing for the top of Mill Mountain.

No matter that it is the most important park and landmark in the city. Chair Dr. Nancy Dye caught city council with their pants on fire at Monday’s council meeting thanks to Mayor Bowers <ahem> “slip of the tongue” at their September 27 committee meeting.

Was it really a slip or did the Mayor really want to intentionally convey what has been going on behind closed doors as appointments to the MMAC staled. According to Dr. Dye, Bowers told the committee members that “it may be disbanded.” She was rightly shocked.

At least three council members are disturbed that Roanoke City Government is just too BIG. Those pesky volunteers on the MMAC need to be reined in and minimized. The idea is to make the protectors of the mountain a subcommittee under the Parks and Recreation Department never to be heard from again. They will have no voice. Dr. Dye who seems like a very smart “aware” woman hopefully will suggest to her members on Oct. 25 that it is not a good idea.

It’s all in the “verbiage” – disband or restructure into a subcommittee. Now really just how stupid does council think the committee or the public is? How often do they scrutinize committees and their relevance. I’d wager this is the first time council (secretly) have discussed a committee’s worth. If they do this all the time as they claim  it has been in secret.

That eight acres on Mill Mountain that was left out of the conservation easement must be looking good for something. I smell a city manager’s vision of downtown revitalization creeping up Mill Mountain. The seed has been planted. Minimize those pesky committee members and the Fishburn family.

J.B. Fishburn donated much of the mountain to the city in the 1940s to be “tdeveloped and forever preserved, improved and maintained for the use and pleasure of the people of the City of Roanoke, Virginia, and vicinity as a public park.”

In 2007 there was an effort by John Lugar and a group of young professionals who called themselves Valley Forward to place an Inn and restaurant on the site where the Rockledge Inn once stood. The Inn burned down in 1976.

“I think that may put to rest, maybe not forever, maybe for longer than five years, this issue,” Trinkle said back in 2007. Coincidently that five years is up about now.

Then there is that pesky “open meetings” law that says nothing can be discussed outside of what the closed session states. In this case the closed session was to appoint members to the advisory committee and NOT on whether it should be restructured or anything else.

City council as required by law following the closed session “certified” that nothing other than what was stated as the subject of the closed session was discussed. Did they break the law when everyone affirmed the statement? This doesn’t wash.

But what does wash is that Mayor Bowers “inadvertently” spilled the beans to the MMAC. For those who are not privy to the Freedom of Information Act law in Virginia there is NO requirement/law that says closed meetings are a requirement for any reason. What is called an “exemption” is not law. Now we can understand personnel matters, litigation and property negotiations being held in secret.

Other than that everything else should be open to the public, no secret phone calls or emails.

Most importantly there is no law against any member of a public body telling anyone what was discussed in a closed session. The mayor has the perfect right under the 1st Amendment to tell all. Even if there are rules the 1st Amendment trumps “a rule.”

I don’t think council or the public understands this.

REFERNCE: A public body cannot take any action in the closed meetings. The body cannot take action until it has reconvened in an open meeting. There is nothing that prohibits a member of a public body from revealing what was discussed in the closed meeting.

Can a public body prohibit the participants in a closed meeting from talking about the meeting afterwards?

Nothing in FOIA prohibits someone from telling the public what went on in the closed meeting. An internal rule of this nature would be subject to constitutional challenge under the First Amendment.

by Valerie Garner

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

Tags: , , ,

Comments (1)

Bubba Greene

October 14th, 2012 at 9:01 AM    

Speaking of Big Bird, did you see the item on the salaries of the characters. The guy who is inside that cet up make over $300,000 a year. Great value from your tax dollars.

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