Monday, September 16, 2013

Demand Democracy

I'm not sure what I can say to light a fire under any of you and get you out to tomorrow night's Council Meeting (7:30 pm Tuesday, Municipal Hall). Or at least get you to write to your council people. I just know, if you live in Norristown, you've got neighbors who need you to do something NOW. If you don't, you could very well find a mess of "stacked townhomes" next door to you in the near future, zoning rules or no zoning rules. But more than that, our local government is now ignoring democratic procedure.

Yesterday, the Times Herald reported on last Tuesday's Planning Commission Meeting, saying the 1202 DeKalb development had been approved 2-1, with one abstention. However, if the vote was reported correctly, the project could NOT have been approved.

Quick lesson Robert's Rules of Order--the parliamentary procedures used to run government meetings in the US: For a vote to be valid, you have to have a quorum in the room--that is, a majority of the total members who can vote must be present. That way, a couple people can't take advantage of low attendance to push through their own agenda. The winning side of the vote MUST be a majority of the quorum.

The rest is math. Our Planning Commission has 7 members (Matt Edmond, Hugh McGhee, Arlene Gordon, Michael Davis, LeTonya Clark, Hakim Jones, and Jean Holland). For a quorum, 4 of them have to show up to a meeting. For a valid vote, a majority--at least 3 of the 4--have to vote the same way.

In August, only 3 members attended the Planning meeting, so a vote couldn't be taken. Last Tuesday, 4 attended, however, Michael Davis reclused himself due to a conflict of interest. That meant only 3 people were able to vote, so a quorum was NOT present. The matter should have ended there. The vote should have been put off another month.

But that didn't happen. The vote was taken anyway. Matt Edmond and Hugh McGhee voted yes. Hakim Jones voted no. Remember, there MUST be 3 yes votes for a motion to pass. Yet, Chairman Edmond said it passed with 2.

The Times Herald reported Michael Davis's "vote" as an abstention. It doesn't matter. Call it a reclusal or an abstention, it still means that Mr. Davis didn't vote. Or, according to Robert's Rules, by-laws may be set up to consider an abstention a "no" vote. If that's the case, the vote was valid, but was a tie.

As stated above, these procedures are in place (and have been in place over 120 years) to keep a small minority from taking advantage of absences to push their agenda through. With 7 Planning Commissioners, there's NO WAY, in a democratic government, that 2 can approve anything on their own.

So this needs to be brought up tomorrow night. If Council acts correctly, 1202 DeKalb will be sent back to the Planning Commission until a valid vote can be taken.

We also need to ask Council to replace those members of the Planning Commission who haven't been showing up for their monthly meetings.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm fed up with a government that's being run so poorly.

If you're as angry about this as I am, write to your councilpeople now.

Linda Christian:
Gary Simpson:
William Caldwell:
Marlon Millner:
Mary DiSouza:
Cyril Burke:
Cathy Lawrence:


  1. I must have read Roberts rule of order maybe 15 years ago, and probably not the whole thing. but last night I said to someone, "Does that sound right, only three people voted? They said, "Well if they did it, it must be ok". Well if this turns out to be true, then I need to dedicate my time to stay in the loop and in the know, and actively watch and participate in what is going on down there from here on out. It doesn't stop at this project. this could and most likely will happen in other sections of Norristown.

  2. Sounds like a group (maybe those at the Norristown Diary) need to commit to video taping and publicly publishing the council meetings. I am the V.P. of a political watchdog group called Liberty in Bellevue, PA, (a suburb of Pittsburgh). I find your postings through The Golden Cockroach's website/facebook.
    After being fed up with the going-on's of council behind closed doors where a miniscule resident turn-out came to the council meetings...we decided to invest in an HD handheld camera, and have been recording and publishing the unedited videos to our youtube channel, facebook page, and website for over a year. This has dramatically increased the resident turn out for council meetings, sometimes you can't find a seat. It has also helped to educate the residents on what is REALLY happening inside borough hall...their tax dollars being wasted on over regulation and reactive ordinances instead of focusing on getting the right people to work on digging our town out of the rut that it's been in for 20+ years. During the Primary election, the residents felt that they had more education and more information about the candidates because we held a "meet the candidates/debate" night.

    Please let me know if I can help with anything!!!

    1. I brought my video camera to the meeting last night. However, they only allow taping in the back of the auditorium. The acoustics and poor sound system are such that you can't really hear much beyond the 4th row, let alone hope to pick it up on tape. Since I wanted to hear, I didn't film. Perhaps I will next time. I wouldn't need sound to show Mr. Millner texting on his phone instead of paying attention.

  3. Corruption abounds in Norristown as it does in 99% of all other towns too. America we've got a problem, a BIG PROBLEM few even know about or care enough about it to do anything more than change the channel. Corruption at all levels is what allowed Norristown to become the dump it has become. It's a melting pot alright. It's one big pot of corruption and all that entails.