Councilmania: Talkin' Loud And Saying Nothin'

By the time the "no youth curfew" chant rang out from the balcony, last night's city council meeting was already one of the stranger ones in recent memory. Consider the Food Truck bill. For several months city officials have worked with representatives of the food truck industry to craft new regulations designed to balance the needs of the truck owners with the rights of restaurant owners and residents who worry about losing already-scarce parking. (A similar effort has been underway in the county). Things have been quiet, mostly, for months, but when the bill—number 14-0305—came up for a routine vote, Councilman Ed Reisinger (10th District) offered amendments from the floor. "Amendments one through nine are technical in nature," he told the council. "Ten and eleven are substantive." As Reisinger offered his amendments and called for a vote, Councilman Bill Henry (4th District) shifted in his seat and waved his arms, trying to stop the process for just a minute. But Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young at first ignored him and then—as cross-talk came from the members—announced curtly that there was a motion on the floor that had been seconded. "Roll Call!" Henry yelled. Councilman Jim Kraft (1st District) voted "no" and then it was Henry's turn. "I'd like to explain my vote of 'no,'" he said. "The reason I had motioned was because I wanted to ask if we could talk more about what the substantive amendments do." He added that he hoped Reisinger would take the time to explain those amendments when he votes. Reisinger didn't. The amendments passed, 9-5 with Councilman Carl Stokes (12th District) abstaining. When her turn came, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District) elaborated on the theme. "I consider this a very important bill," she said. Clarke spoke to the Department of General Services many times, and submitted many amendments well ahead of time for discussion in committee and consideration by the city's various departments, she said. "I haven't received the same courtesy. "We do not mind having food trucks," Clarke continued. "What we lack in the business district in my district is parking space." She said the bill would create special zones with 50-foot set-asides for food trucks—but that she doesn't yet know where these zones are to be. The bill then passed to Third Reader on about the same vote, but then Clarke changed her vote to yes. This was a strategic move; it preserves her right to make a motion to reconsider the matter later. The next bill the council considered was not controversial, but when some members did not voice their approval loudly enough, Young called for a roll-call vote. This is something Young does at some point in just about every council meeting. The members do not vote loudly enough, so he scolds them like a class of second-graders. Henry, obviously miffed, again stood up to explain his vote. "This chamber is supposed to be a chamber of discussion and debate," he said. "If we're not going to be that, I find it very frustrating to have to repeat my vote over and over just because it doesn't meet the sound level requirements of the Council President." A few minutes later it was time to vote on the Youth Curfew bill, which has become a controversy as it extends an old curfew to earlier hours and reminds civil libertarians that the city has a curfew—which has not been enforced with any vigor, ever. (Here's the Sun's take on the curfew). Councilman Brandon Scott, the bill's lead sponsor, offered a couple of technical amendments, the main trust of which seemed to be the renaming of a "truancy center" to a "youth connection center." Stokes and Branch voted against. The crowd of youth protestors chanted from the balcony and Scott had to raise his voice. As the protesters—catching on to the vibe of the chamber—chanted "roll call," Young directed the vote for the extended curfew as usual, with no roll call. The votes were quiet and yet Young did not scold the council. "I know," Young said at the end, directing the vote counter to make note of Branch and Stokes' "no" votes.

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