Wednesday, April 17, 2013

City Council Meetings

This week, the Durham City Council voted to approve the Triangle Curling Club's request to rezone the land we purchased last year, so that we can build a curling club on it. We (the club) were all encouraged to attend the City Council Meeting, so I did.


This was actually the first city council meeting I've been to...ever? I remember going to a School Board meeting one time when I was a kid, but I don't remember going to a city council meeting. Either way, if I did, I would have been too young to care, so it doesn't matter. Fact is, I had no idea what city council meetings were like going into them. How long do they last? 30 minutes? Six hours? (I vaguely remember those School Board meetings occasionally lasting well into the night.) What do they talk about there? Is there heated debate among the council members?

Well, here's a brief recap. (And if you want to follow along, here was the agenda from Monday's meeting.)

Step 1: Pledge of Allegiance. When was the last time you recited the Pledge of Allegiance? High school? Earlier than that? I know it's been a while for me, but I've still got it. Saying it 180 times a year for 12 years will do that, I suppose. It's like riding a bike or something. (Some of the Canadians amongst our curling group did not know the Allegiance. Busted!)

Step 2: Lots of "proclamations". Some of these involve applause and standing ovations for various people who did good things. (Regarding standing ovations: if one person stands up, everyone stands up. That's just the way it works.) Also, there are things like, "As the mayor of Durham I hereby declare that the City of Durham supports Earth Day!" Good to get the important PR "let's pat ourselves on the back" stuff out of the way at the top while everyone is still paying attention.

Step 3: Down to business. A peek at the agenda shows that the Triangle Curling Club items are way down near the bottom of the list, #39 and #40. Buh. On the other hand - and this is where I'm not really sure what went on - they did some blanket vote related to items 1 through 34, and once that passed, they immediately moved on to item 37. Woohoo! (There was no item 35 or 36 on the agenda. Why? Who knows?)

Step 4: Who wants a sidewalk? Items 37 through 40 are under "General Business Agenda - Public Hearings", and it makes sense to do Public Hearing stuff near the top, so that the general public doesn't have to wait too long. If we're going to do them first - as we ended up doing anyway - why aren't those items at the top of the list to begin with? Who knows. Either way, item 37 was related to approval for a new sidewalk along Grandale Drive. ... Hey, I know where that is! It's pretty much right behind our house. In fact, I just encountered this sidewalk gap the other day when I was out taking Marla for a walk. I thought, "You know, it would be nice if this sidewalk kept going." Apparently someone else thought the same thing, because here it was being discussed at the city council meeting. So, that was kind of neat. It passed unanimously.

Step 5: Approval of Draft FY 2013-2014 Annual Action Plan for...something or other. I was kind of zoning out (no pun intended) at this point, but I think the gist of "item 38" was this: the city gets money from the federal government for "housing and urban development" - low income housing, homeless shelters, that sort of thing - and the council needed to approve the draft "plan" for how to spend the money. Five speakers (who are given a strictly enforced three minutes each, at which point you are subjected to LOUD NOISES) came to the podium and all basically said the same thing: "You should strongly consider giving us more money, because the work we do is VERY VERY IMPORTANT!" To which the council replied, "We know you do great work, but...you know, the sequester and all that." The plan was approved unanimously as-is, although it is just a draft at this point.

Step 6: Vote YES for the Triangle Curling Club! Our turn! First, someone from the planning commission (I think) introduced the measure, which basically said, "They want to rezone their land, and the planning commission unanimously recommended it". Then, our club's lawyer came up and talked - in LESS THAN three minutes, thank you very much - about how great we are and why a curling club in Durham would be, like, totally awesome and stuff. During his talk, he asked all club members in attendance to stand up - there were 21 of us! - to show our support. Pretty sly move on the lawyer's part, I thought. Surely, they're not going to vote against us with so many of us in attendance, right? ... Well, it passed unaminously, so, go us!

Noticing a trend here? Every single vote I witnessed was passed unaminously. Are all city councils like that? Or is this just because this is Durham we're talking about here, where the City Council is exclusively made up of Democrats? Or, maybe we needed to stick around longer to see any real debate? I suppose if you want to see heated debate, you shouldn't attend a Durham City Council meeting; instead, maybe you should go to a Wake County school board meeting.

"Chris, I think you had unrealistic expectations. This isn't like on television. Government meetings are pretty boring. Fact is, even a two-party City Council will agree on most everything; it's the 5% of things they DON'T agree on that get all of the news coverage. I mean, who was going to vote against that sidewalk, anyway?" Yep. Still, though...at least one "NO" vote, at some point, might have been fun. (But not for the Triangle Curling Club, of course.)

Anyway, after the curling club related business was complete about 90 minutes into the meeting, the club members all got up and left, right then. Was that rude of us? Especially considering that we made up at least half of the general audience? Either way, after that, I think they went back to items 1 through 34. So, in case you were wondering what happened to those items, there you go.

Finally, it was nice to see, in person, the people I've been voting for (or not voting for) over the last four years. After seeing them in action, I can say that I am almost certain to vote for Steve Schewel next time around. And that was before he said the curling club was "the coolest thing they'd ever been asked to approve". (Mostly, Schewel appears to really be on the ball, know his stuff, and ask the right questions.) On the other hand, I'm also a little less likely to vote for...you know, on second thought, I'm not going to slander any of them. Not today. I mean, they did all just vote in favor of the Triangle Curling Club.

1 comment:

Spartangoogle said...

Congratulations. Most votes at our School Board are also unanimous. I think part of it is, "I'd better vote for this thing Person A wants because I might need her vote for something I want in the future." A lot gets approved through the "consent agenda" too - lots of stuff lumped together with no individual discussion.