One thing I learned this week: it’s a good idea to come early to City Council meetings – and to pay attention to matters outside of one’s usual sphere.
I had arrived more than an hour early in hope of putting in my two cents’ worth on a totally unrelated agenda item. But the public comment period was already over, so I settled down to listen to the Council take up issues – important issues – pertaining to the city’s homeless population. This discussion was enlivened by the spirited appearance of a number of the homeless themselves, carrying signs and advocating quite effectively for their cause. It went on for about an hour. Then the crowd began to thin, leaving the lords and ladies of City Hall relatively alone on the dais, anticipating a presentation on “imagining Austin” but with the homeless still on their minds as the witching hour – high noon – approached.
Ordinarily I would have been sitting well back. But it happened I’d slipped up front to give the AV tech the flash drive with a slide advertising the March 15 meeting (see previous blog entry). I planned to talk about that during Citizens Communication. Thus it was that, at about five minutes to the hour, I heard Randi Shade telling Laura Morrison something to the effect that “…since this vote really needs you to be there and you can’t make it on the 15th, we’ll do it on the 22nd instead.” The words went by very fast, but my antennae quivered. Shade and Morrison are both members of the Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services – the very committee that was supposed to be taking up fluoride on March 15 and the same one that would also normally deal with homeless matters. Could the date possibly have been changed without our knowledge?
Lacking an opportunity to approach the Council privately before my turn to speak, I was obliged to use part of my precious three minutes to ask a question. The exchange went like this:
RNO: I’m going to have to ask a question because it impacts what I was going to say. Did I understand correctly that the Committee on Public Health and Human Services meeting originally scheduled for March 15 has been postponed to the 22nd?…
Mayor Leffingwell: I’ll let council member Shade answer that question.
Shade: You did, and I planned on telling you about that and reminding you and making sure that you knew about it since you were going to be here at Citizens Communication. Please spread the word. The Committee will be doing its best to reach out to the constituents who have contacted us already and we very much apologize [that] yesterday, when it became clear that council member Morrison would not be available, we scheduled a meeting where we would have the full complement of the Council …
RNO: OK,I won’t show my slide, then…So that will be the same time as…?
Shade: Two o’clock. Yes, two o’clock rather than three, to allow us more time. We’ll meet here in the Council chamber as we expect you’ll have a large number of people attending…
RNO: We hope so!
Shade: It will be on March 22nd rather than March 15.
RNO: OK, well, thank you…
Yes, thank you, Ms. Shade. Though it would have been nice to know yesterday, before running off hundreds of flyers with the wrong information.
Having consumed over a third of my precious time on this exchange (the Mayor has sternly reminded us that questions count as part of CC), I cut short my planned talk by a third. Later that day, one of my Fluoride Free Austin colleagues, Linda, roundly took me to task for not being more aggressive. I should, she insists, have confronted Shade for failing to immediately inform us of the schedule change; should have demanded the clock be re-started.
But at the time I didn’t even think of it. I’m the non-confrontational type: slow to wrath and thoroughly invested in the mighty power of the pen. Besides, even after several years of advocacy, I continue to be amazed and sometimes slow to react to the antics of professional politicians. One thing is sure: we can expect more fun and games at City Hall until we win our cause – as we one day will.
My original planned mini-speech, Fluoride Date Lecture #40, follows:
Good afternoon, Mayor Leffingwell and Council Members. First off, I want to let everyone out there know that the Austin City Council