Ramblings & Musings: City Council Special Meeting

What makes a fun Tuesday night? The City Council meeting, when the topic is homeless/vagrants/transients and downtown. I cruised up the steps of the chamber, stepping ever so gently over a half-smoked joint so as not to disturb it, passed a group of unwashed people camping on the grass, and headed into the chamber. The line was out the door, so I forced my way in to the standing-room-only section. The entire council was present, save for Ann Schwab, who had invoked some public code regarding conflict of interest and her downtown business dealings. Thank you Mary Goloff for demanding to know what “conflict” allowed her not to participate in the session.

An introduction was made by Mayor Scott Gruendel as to how the evening was to proceed with a general timeline. At this point I realized that the Mayor is not a very eloquent speaker, as I was distracted by the number of “uh, um, uh” noises coming out of his mouth. Essentially, he was going to split us into smaller focus groups based on concerns regarding enforcement or services. He then tried to count people off 1-2-3-4, instead of saying enforcement here, services here, and then dividing into smaller groups from there. I wandered off into the enforcement room and grabbed a chair to watch what would come of the focus group.

Sticky note time! Everyone grabbed a pack of Post-Its and wrote one thing regarding enforcement that they would like to see. Most were grouped into major categories such as having a fully funded police force, enforcing animal licensing, and enforcing laws and ordinances that already exist. At one point, our breakout group was chided by Mary Goloff not to editorialize. What became clear to me—people are at the point where they are tired and frustrated with what is going on (hence the editorializing), people get angry when you write more than one idea on a Post-It, and a vocal (dare I say aggressive) gentleman who didn’t introduce himself other than as a “downtown business owner” thinks a half-cent tax earmarked for police funding would help.

Then we were back in the main chamber. The top five ideas from both services and enforcement groups were shared. Three topics seemed to stand out—the need for immediacy in doing something about the issue of transients and downtown, the need for a full police force, and enforcing the laws already on the books. Sean Morgan motioned to reintroduce a sit/lie ordinance for a third time, which will be addressed at the November 5th meeting. Talk from the other council members pointed to modifications to the existing draft, research from interns on sit/lie ordinances in other cities, and effectiveness of such an ordinance, if violators do not have funds with which to pay fines. The light bulb moment occurred in the crowd (before it happened within the council) that a sit/lie ordinance does not affect those who congregate on the grassy areas of the parks, or the lawn of the City Council building. We’ll leave that for another night…how about November 5th? See you then.