Taking the “Public” Out of Public Hearing
by Geoff Kelly - posted 11:34 am, May 8, 2008
Tuesday I ran down to City Hall to catch the 5:30pm public hearing on Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed 2008-2009 budget. This is not a particularly popular pastime, I know; usually only a half dozen or so of the “public” attend and address the Common Council, department heads, etc. to make known their concerns about the city’s spending habits.
I arrived at 5:40 and found every door to City Hall locked. Seriously. This sucks, I thought. Then: But at least its’s fodder for a column.
So I hung around, peering in the door, ringing the bell that surely does not work, waiting for someone to leave. At about 5:45pm I was joined by a news crew from Channel 4. We tried calling people we knew inside, but everyone was gone for the day — or in Council Chambers, attending the “public” hearing that the public was unable to attend, because all the doors were locked.
At about 5:50pm, Inspections, Permits and Economic Development Commissioner Rich Tobe exited the building but let the door close behind him before I could shout out to hold it open. “Sorry, I can’t get back in now,” he said. I told him I was trying to attend a public hearing up in Council Chambers. He agreed that locking the doors on the evening of such a hearing was curious. But not, he thought, unusual.
Nor did Deputy Mayor Steve Casey seem to consider it strange that the doors were locked, as the Channel 4 team and I raced to the elevators at 6pm, when we finally slipped in the door behind an exiting bureaucrat. “Hurry up,” he said, “it’s just about over.”
Right he was: In the absence of any “public” in the public hearing, the Council had rolled two hearings into one and wrapped the whole thing up by 6:10pm. Exactly one person had signed up to speak. Everyone in Council Chambers was on the public payroll.
Afterward, Delaware District Councilmember Mike LoCurto summed up the hearing for me: a whole lot of nothing. He too was unsurprised to learn the doors had been locked. They had been locked during the previous day’s public hearing as well, he said.