Aldermen Reverse Decision To Censor Debate

   Democrat Majoity Leader on the Board of Aldermen,  Tony Picocchi, foreground, listened to his Republican colleague, Steve Giacomi, right, give a blistering commentary about the board's December 1st vote to control debate between aldermen, and to limit the public's ability to address subjects not on the agenda without submitting questions 11 days in advance of meetings. The public's response to the Democrats attempt to limit debate at aldermen meetings was fast and furious. Both the Rep-Am newspaper and the Waterbury Observer condemned the rule changes, and when the ACLU threatened a lawsuit, the Democrats reversed course and voted last night to return to the old rules.

   The decision to revert back to the old rules was made days in advance of the meeting, and last night's vote was a mere formality, however members of the public and several GOP aldermen made strong statements about the attempt to quelch democracy. None stronger than Giacomi's, which are published here. Picocchi defended the Democrats and strongly stated it was not an attempt to shorten meetings or to squelch debate.

REMARKS BY ALDERMAN GIACOMI
DURING THE 12-9-13 BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING
RE: ALDERMANIC RULES STIFLING DEBATE

   Mr. President, I speak tonight first to thank the majority side for proposing to return the rules governing debate amongst the members of this board to the language that governed our previous term, but also to express my disappointment with the way the majority has decided to begin this term.

   It has been said recently by members of the majority that the purpose of the rules put in place on Inauguration Day but since rescinded were to speed up meetings, to prevent the repetitiveness of arguments, to force members to face the leadership before they get too “wacky” and begin to “play for the cameras”. I must say, it was disappointing to hear that, disappointing to hear that the majority side thinks so little of both us in the minority, as well as the public. It is disappointing that, instead of discussing changes to encourage debate and participation, we had to discuss proposed rules changes that were based on a fear of ideas and a disdain for the Waterbury resident. To be honest, I’m not sure what the majority side and the administration were afraid of, they get 9 votes no matter how foolish the proposal or accompanying remarks.

   It should be clear to any member of this board who has versed themselves in the parliamentary procedures contained within Robert’s Rules of Order that the mechanisms to achieve what the majority claimed to be seeking already exist. To be sure, Robert’s Rules provides the president and the majority side with the ability to limit or cut off debate, refocus discussion, and generally move along the deliberations of issues at whatever pace is desired.
So one is forced to ask, why was there such preoccupation with the volume, verbiage, and drama that may sometimes be a byproduct of arguments from both the public as well as the minority side for or against an issue. Are those the qualities that the majority side believes to be indicative of perceived victory in a debate?

   To quote Christopher Tollefson, professor of philosophy at the Univ. of South Carolina, in his October 9th, 2009 article entitled What Is Public Discourse?, “If citizens and politicians believe that victory is to the loudest, or the most dramatic, then loud and dramatic they will be.” To put it another way, if the majority desires to place limits on debate in order to curb what they feel are wacky plays for the camera, thereby placing unwarranted and unneeded focus on these qualities, then it stands to reason that the public and the minority side may likely see fit to increase these qualities in the short time we are allowed to speak, since it could reasonably be said that the majority has tacitly deemed those qualities to be the most important due to their focus on them via the new rules.

   The majority has also said that not only were they trying to curb drama and volume, but also unwanted and, in their minds, repetitive debate. Now if the majority feels that the legitimate debate of issues before this board is repetitive, tedious, and redundant, I would return to professor Tollefson who further said that, in contrast to the volume and drama of which the majority is so concerned, “…public discourse is often difficult, deliberative, and slow.”
Mr. President, speed should not be the goal of this board, nor should the curtailing of dialogue – pro or con – on the part of the public and the minority. Rather the goals should be the full and fair consideration of the policies and proposals offered to this board so that the people have a clear and full understanding of them, however long and loud that consideration should become.

   I believe this is a very important distinction Mr. President, one that I would be remiss not to make. I often not only hear but participate in conversations concerning the goals of the minority members of this board. It seems to me that the feelings of the majority over the last several years was that the minority simply desired to obstruct the goals of whatever administration was and is in power. Two years ago the newly elected Republican minority vowed not to be obstructionists, and I believe we’ve lived up to that vow. However, the majority should realize that the opposite of obstruction is not simply polite acquiescence to the whims of the majority, but rather it is fierce, reasoned, and loyal opposition.

   To paraphrase former House Speaker Tip O’Neill in remarks to his staff outlining his expectations for them after the landslide Reagan presidential victory in 1980, “…we’re going to oppose, we’re going to fight tooth and nail, but we will not obstruct.” I firmly believe that is the job of the minority; to oppose, to question and debate, so that the true nature of policies and proposals can be revealed, for good or for ill. After all, real transparency in government does not come in the form of daily schedules of ribbon cuttings and self-congratulatory press releases, but in the consistent and sometimes heated back and forth of legislative bodies such as the one to which we currently belong.

   Mr. President, the matters that come before this board are of tremendous public importance, and therefore must be discussed in public. That this discussion sometimes takes the form of a public argument should not be something that troubles this board, as long as the discussions are allowed to be conducted fully and freely. It is the least we can do for the people that have placed us in these most important positions. And I once again thank the majority for seeing to fit to rescind the rules changes that were put in place on Inauguration Day.

   Mr. President, I speak tonight first to thank the majority side for proposing to return the rules governing debate amongst the members of this board to the language that governed our previous term, but also to express my disappointment with the way the majority has decided to begin this term.

   It has been said recently by members of the majority that the purpose of the rules put in place on Inauguration Day but since rescinded were to speed up meetings, to prevent the repetitiveness of arguments, to force members to face the leadership before they get too “wacky” and begin to “play for the cameras”. I must say, it was disappointing to hear that, disappointing to hear that the majority side thinks so little of both us in the minority, as well as the public. It is disappointing that, instead of discussing changes to encourage debate and participation, we had to discuss proposed rules changes that were based on a fear of ideas and a disdain for the Waterbury resident. To be honest, I’m not sure what the majority side and the administration were afraid of, they get 9 votes no matter how foolish the proposal or accompanying remarks.
It should be clear to any member of this board who has versed themselves in the parliamentary procedures contained within Robert’s Rules of Order that the mechanisms to achieve what the majority claimed to be seeking already exist. To be sure, Robert’s Rules provides the president and the majority side with the ability to limit or cut off debate, refocus discussion, and generally move along the deliberations of issues at whatever pace is desired.

   So one is forced to ask, why was there such preoccupation with the volume, verbiage, and drama that may sometimes be a byproduct of arguments from both the public as well as the minority side for or against an issue. Are those the qualities that the majority side believes to be indicative of perceived victory in a debate?

   To quote Christopher Tollefson, professor of philosophy at the Univ. of South Carolina, in his October 9th, 2009 article entitled What Is Public Discourse?, “If citizens and politicians believe that victory is to the loudest, or the most dramatic, then loud and dramatic they will be.” To put it another way, if the majority desires to place limits on debate in order to curb what they feel are wacky plays for the camera, thereby placing unwarranted and unneeded focus on these qualities, then it stands to reason that the public and the minority side may likely see fit to increase these qualities in the short time we are allowed to speak, since it could reasonably be said that the majority has tacitly deemed those qualities to be the most important due to their focus on them via the new rules.

   The majority has also said that not only were they trying to curb drama and volume, but also unwanted and, in their minds, repetitive debate. Now if the majority feels that the legitimate debate of issues before this board is repetitive, tedious, and redundant, I would return to professor Tollefson who further said that, in contrast to the volume and drama of which the majority is so concerned, “…public discourse is often difficult, deliberative, and slow.”
Mr. President, speed should not be the goal of this board, nor should the curtailing of dialogue – pro or con – on the part of the public and the minority. Rather the goals should be the full and fair consideration of the policies and proposals offered to this board so that the people have a clear and full understanding of them, however long and loud that consideration should become.

   I believe this is a very important distinction Mr. President, one that I would be remiss not to make. I often not only hear but participate in conversations concerning the goals of the minority members of this board. It seems to me that the feelings of the majority over the last several years was that the minority simply desired to obstruct the goals of whatever administration was and is in power. Two years ago the newly elected Republican minority vowed not to be obstructionists, and I believe we’ve lived up to that vow. However, the majority should realize that the opposite of obstruction is not simply polite acquiescence to the whims of the majority, but rather it is fierce, reasoned, and loyal opposition.

   To paraphrase former House Speaker Tip O’Neill in remarks to his staff outlining his expectations for them after the landslide Reagan presidential victory in 1980, “…we’re going to oppose, we’re going to fight tooth and nail, but we will not obstruct.” I firmly believe that is the job of the minority; to oppose, to question and debate, so that the true nature of policies and proposals can be revealed, for good or for ill. After all, real transparency in government does not come in the form of daily schedules of ribbon cuttings and self-congratulatory press releases, but in the consistent and sometimes heated back and forth of legislative bodies such as the one to which we currently belong.

   Mr. President, the matters that come before this board are of tremendous public importance, and therefore must be discussed in public. That this discussion sometimes takes the form of a public argument should not be something that troubles this board, as long as the discussions are allowed to be conducted fully and freely. It is the least we can do for the people that have placed us in these most important positions. And I once again thank the majority for seeing to fit to rescind the rules changes that were put in place on Inauguration Day.