Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Last Night's Council Meeting

It's been a while since I attended a Council Meeting. I went last night to hear the presentation by Temple University about their food assessment of Norristown. Mood-wise, the meeting was for the most part positive and not depressing, as Council meetings had tended to be last year.

The Temple presentation had a lot of information and recommendations which I'll cover next week in a separate blog. Today I'll just cover the other items on the agenda.

"Agenda" was the first issue. During the public comment period, a resident asked why the agenda for last night's meeting hadn't been published on the website. Furthermore, she said, the Town Hall meeting with Chief Talbot on Monday night hadn't been publicized in any way. Another resident attested that no one in her neighborhood had heard about the Town Hall. Chief Talbot claimed that he'd had 5 town hall meetings so far. Even Representative Christian said she'd only heard about 2 of them--the one at the American Legion Lodge (which was publicized well in advance and had a good attendance of about 75 people) and Monday's meeting. These are the only 2 that I knew about as well. If there were 3 other meetings, they were completely off the radar.

I received an email from the borough secretary late Monday telling me about the Town Hall and asking me to spread the word. I didn't see the email until Tuesday morning. But the email said the reason word hadn't gotten out was that "Our information employee is on vacation."

There's our problem in a nutshell: Norristown employs ONE person in charge of disseminating information. The job is too big for one person in the first place. If she gets sick or takes a vacation or needs a personal day for a family emergency, a town of 34,000 residents experiences a total information blackout. Come on, Council, if you're serious about improving communication, you can start by giving us an Information DEPARTMENT. At least give Gabriela an assistant or intern or a couple of part-timers. Let's get those agendas posted on time, make sure the calendar is correct, and put more timely information out on Facebook and Twitter. Plus, maybe they could come up with other ways to get the word out to our residents.

Another interesting item was that Council passed a resolution removing competitive testing for the positions of Police Captain and Lieutenant, leaving the promotions to these positions at the sole discretion of the Police Chief. I'm of 2 minds about this. As Chief Talbot stated, the usual procedure in most police forces is to promote positions above lieutenant without testing (I know this because of my research for my mystery novels). It makes sense, because if a cop is capable enough to be a lieutenant, he ought to be able to handle captain with no trouble, and there's usually only one lieutenant in the department to promote to captain. Still, I wonder about giving that much power to the Chief without some kind of objective assessment for the position of lieutenant. I'd be interested to know how wide the field of potential candidates is for that.

Councilman Millner asked about the latest crime statistics which apparently showed crime had decreased in Norristown. His question had to do with the way data was collected. We, the public, were not given the statistics, nor told where we could go to find them. They might have been presented at the town meeting Monday, but only 10 residents attended that (because the rest of us didn't have adequate notice). I'd suggest a presentation of crime statistics at least once a quarter at a Council Meeting that's filmed, so the public has regular ongoing access to the information.

An easement was requested for 1202 Dekalb St. (the 24 townhouses on 2/3 acre project). Something to do with sidewalks on Green St. and a relaxation of requirements for the disabled. Again, not well-defined for us eavesdroppers in the audience. A resident asked during public comment that this be explained and another public comment period be allowed after the explanation and before voting. She was totally ignored.

As I said, this wasn't as depressing a meeting as last years' were, and business moved along fairly quickly. For a few items, though, it felt a little too quick--I wish Mr. Caldwell or someone would have provided a bit more detail, acknowledging that those of us who took time to attend the meeting might not be aware of all the inside info known to council members for each issue.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe that they have one person in charge of diseminating the information to the public. They should be able (the manager) to give the information numerous people to post or diseminate the information. It appears as though this is just an excuse for dropping the ball and keeping the public in the dark. In this day and age there are many people savy in posting on the internet, your blog alone is post quite frequently, maybe the manage should get you to do the posting and get the word out because you try to get the people informed of many aspects of the goings on in town. Maybe its a case of thats not my job attitude in council, if the were running for election they would know how to communicate. God Bless America !!