Monday's meeting of Emmetsburg City Council was one big disappointment.
The first disappointment came with the resignation of Councilman Pat Degen. For 11 years Pat has represented the citizens in Ward 2 and the community as a whole. He has given each item considerable thought and did his homework on issues facing the community. I have watched as, over the years, Pat has taken a stand and not wavered. His presence will be missed at City Hall.
Along with the good, comes the bad. I was also disappointed with the conduct of the mayor and city council. In my 30-plus years of covering city government, these recent years have been disturbing. This last meeting left me dumbfounded.
Here's the rub: Mayor John Schad publicly chastised members of the Public Properties Committee in a letter to the editor (September 14), citing a "hole in the Iowa Open Meetings Law." He asserts that "the law does not provide for a guarantee that people attending an open meeting may speak at the meeting, only that they may be present."
Mayor Schad used my editorial on abuse of the Open Meetings Law as the springboard for his letter. I think the mayor is giving the Open Meetings Law a bad rap.
Unfortunately I was not at the committee meeting in question. But, the meeting was open to the public and an agenda was posted. Citizens attended the meeting.
That these citizens did not speak is, to me, a procedural problem and not an Open Meetings Law issue. They attended an open meeting where discussion was among the committee. Had anyone raised a hand to be recognized, I believe he/she would have been allowed to speak.
Historically our city and county governments have not been as stringent as the state legislature. At the statehouse the public is allowed to observe proceedings, but not participate. We have been through the process of handing the doorkeeper a note requesting to speak to a representative or senator, then waiting until they have time to leave the chambers to speak to you.
The stress level was high when Councilman Steve Finer addressed the mayor Monday night. The battleground became: who talked to whom about being able to address the council committee or sit in silence and observe the committee meeting. Monday night, statements were misconstrued, there were interruptions, allegations and misinterpretations as accusations were tossed back and forth across the table. I quit taking notes and just listened.
When my name came out again pertaining to the Open Meetings Law, I raised my hand to speak. I told the mayor and council that I am not an expert on the Open Meetings Law. But, in my opinion, the Open Meetings Law and Roberts Rules of Order were perhaps being confused. I know of no law that prevents a person from speaking.
I felt like I was speaking to the wind but at least I was voicing my opinion. No one said I couldn't.
Emmetsburg City Council has a time for public comment during each council meeting. City Attorney Brian Thul suggested Monday night that a time for public comment could be placed on every agenda (including committee meetings) so no person would be discriminated against.
The opportunity is there for residents to attend public meetings. Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code, the Iowa Open Meetings Law, spells out when a meeting can be closed. Chapter 22 is about the public's right to know and examine documents that are open to the public. These are two of the most important laws that exist today.
Mayor and Council, you have disappointed me once again. Is the name of the game divide and conquer? None of us needs that kind of stress in our lives. This type of behavior is not acceptable in public or anywhere.
There are so many good things going on in our community it's heartbreaking to witness senseless bickering. Let's put this to rest and get on with making positive accomplishments in Emmetsburg.