Peace at any price

Darrell Clarke: decorum wins
Darrell Clarke: decorum wins
Posted: March 07, 2014

WHEN I LEARNED that my City Council, in violation of state law and the city charter, declared yesterday's meeting basically "invitation only," I issued myself an invitation.

Council was turned into an exclusive "after-party" because Mayor Nutter was going to deliver his annual budget message, an address stillborn last year when hundreds of boorish union members shouted him down.

The unions were wrong.

Council President Darrell Clarke didn't demand decorum or ask cops clear the room.

Clarke was wrong.

The union members had a right to be there. They had a right to jeer and boo and catcall. They had a right to wave cartoons of Nutter as Bozo.

They did not have the right to shut the meeting down. Those are stormtrooper tactics.

I say that as a proud union member who's spent six weeks of my career here on picket lines and whose daughter was fired for organizing a union where she once worked.

What the unions did last year was a disgrace. Worse, it didn't change anything that was going to happen. It forced a cowardly Council to retreat to another room to hear the mayor and it provided fresh ammunition for anti-union jackals to tar all union men and women with the same tired, worn brush.

I signed in at the front door like everyone else, then seated myself at the press table. I was there on your behalf, if you live in the city. The Daily News had a platoon there.

The City Home Rule Charter states: "The meetings of the Council shall at all times be open and accessible to the public." The state Sunshine Law says any scheduled Council meeting must be open if a quorum is present.

When it was reported that the meeting would be by invite only, I was surprised to read that Zack Stalberg believed it didn't violate the Sunshine Law. Stalberg heads the good-government Committee of Seventy and formerly was the Daily News' editor, and my boss.

This didn't sound like him, so I called him up.

He said he wasn't a lawyer (I know that), that the hearing would be on television (and radio, I know that), and said it might violate the law but not "the real spirit of the Sunshine Act."

Was this a seance?

How about the city charter?

Again, as a nonlawyer, he said "it did seem to violate the charter."

I'm not a lawyer either - except in the Court of Public Opinion - and it's clear as vodka that the charter was violated.

Stalberg says both sides were wrong - the union for deafening disruption, the Council for allowing the screaming mob to break up its meeting. We're on the same page with that, but if you can't count on Seventy to nail Council's hide to the wall for this dodge, where can you go?

How about the ACLU? It has received no complaints, senior staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper told me, but added, "Clearly this is not supposed to happen under the charter and the Sunshine Act."

Yesterday, after the mayor began his half-hour address, cops on the balcony allowed a handful of citizens in, after passing them through a metal detector and making them promise they'd behave or be ejected. When he opened the Council session, Clarke said much the same thing. That's what he should have said last year, instead of a milquetoast attempt to regain order.

After the meeting, I asked a few Council members if they were OK with the public being stiff-armed. Each gave me pat answers about this being the "people's place," "public forum," yada-yada-yada - but did nothing to open the gates.

Clarke was trying to avoid a repeat of last year's mess and have a calm and peaceful meeting.

He got it, with an audience as polite as a class at St. Monica's. There was a steep price.

Council put decorum over democracy.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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