Philadelphia City Council now has to permit public comment at its regular sessions thanks to a lawsuit based on the state open meetings law. Last week I made a case that Council already allows enough public input to meet standards of fairness, if not the law.
A reader, commenting under the name George Birds posted this well-reasoned critique:
“If you don’t like the Sunshine Act the way it is currently drafted, that is certainly your prerogative, however it is difficult to fault the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning in this case. While the framers of this law may not have had Philadelphia’s City Council in mind (although I suspect it may have occurred to them), I can assure you that suburban councils and school boards are notorious for their behind the scenes deal making. While the Sunshine Act may not end back room deals, it at least affords average citizens the right to petition their government for redress of their grievances. It may not always be pretty, or even vaguely on point, but I am loathe to encourage the alternative. More speech, not less.”
Great point, George. My experience with suburban councils is limited, but I’ve seen plenty of public agencies that hold their real debates and make decisions in private sessions, then ratify them in perfunctory public meetings. It’s a regular and outrageous violation of the open meetings law, which requires that deliberations occur in public.
Allowing public comment doesn’t ensure public officials won’t make private deals, but it offers an opportunity to call them on it, and demand to know why the public was shut out of a two-hour executive session and treated to a 10-minute public meeting.