Schmoozing the Public?


The Letter to the Editor entitled “Transparency in Grand Rapids City Council” published in the Herald review on April 26, 2015, presented serious questions regarding transparency of Grand Rapids City Council proceedings. In addition, it called into question the lack of a complete, accurate and permanent record of all City Council proceedings and the availability of those complete, accurate and permanent records. These records are not only desirable but are required. The official response to this perceived lack of transparency and the lack of a complete, accurate and permanent record has yet to come.

It is the viewpoint of Grand Rapids Voice that the Mayor and the City Council serve the residents and taxpayers of the City of Grand Rapids and not the other way around. The citizens of Grand Rapids have the right to express their comments, concerns and opinions regarding the City, its management, finances, expenditures, etc., to the Mayor and the City Council and to have their comments, concerns and opinions reflected and preserved in the Official Record. There exists a formal time and place for the public to do so. That time and place is at the regularly scheduled and special meetings of the City Council.

Why then, do the Mayor and City Administrator have so-called “Coffee and Conversation” sessions outside the Council Chambers? Understanding that this is an informal setting for public input, what is the point? All matters presented at such a gathering are, by definition, off-the-record. What, then, happens to the public’s comments, concerns and opinions? Not being on the record, it would be easy for these comments, concerns and opinions to be responded to by mere platitudes and then evaporate into thin air never to be seen or heard of again.

What is the real purpose of these “Coffee and Conversation” sessions? Are they to merely schmooze the public into thinking these sessions are a meaningful alternative to the scheduled City Council meetings to be held later in the day? Are any of these comments, concerns or opinions brought up later in the day at the City Council meetings? Venues such as “Coffee and Conversation” and “Town Hall Meetings” are for campaigns and not official business.

The purpose of the first part of every regularly scheduled City Council meeting is dedicated to input from the public. The comments, concerns and opinions of the public should be made at this time and put on the official record as meager as that record is. Only in this way can public input be formalized and require official response by the Mayor and City Council.

John Nelson

Grand Rapids Voice