Conservative talk-show host Laura Schlessinger, better known as “Dr. Laura”, liked to ask callers about their “moral dilemmas”. In filling the gap left when our council decided to stop recording and airing presentations of non-agenda speakers at regular meetings, I have encountered one of my own. Over my nearly fifteen years of observing council proceedings here in Portsmouth, I have found that city council members are not loathe to decry grandstanding by citizens, but they are most tolerant of their own attention-seeking behaviors. In fact, the structure of their semimonthly meetings maximizes their opportunities to appear in the limelight. Opening presentations and proclamations, board and commission member anointment, and “Items Submitted by Council Members” all provide “solo performance” opportunities to our elected body. Beyond that, every agenda item provides them the opportunity to opine for as long as they wish, or their colleagues will endure, on the matter at hand.
What I find particularly irksome is that, despite their acknowledged right to speak early, often, and brilliantly or ignorantly as they may wish during the “regular agenda”, when the time comes for the citizens to express themselves on topics of their own choosing, council can exploit that time, too, for more self aggrandizement. This, then, is the core of my moral dilemma: as the operator of the camera recording what city council has chosen to leave unaired: do I have to encourage their grandstanding by including their remarks with those of the citizenry? Can I not elect to do to them what they have done to us — excise their commentary from the recorded material I transmit to the viewing public?
As you might imagine, I have more than a little ambivalence about this question. I feel a certain kinship with Hamlet (“To be, or not to be”; to cut, or not to cut). To date I have wrestled with the temptation to play censor, refraining mainly out of a sense of duty to my viewers. They have come to this site seeking to inform themselves about what has transpired in our public forum. For its own reasons, a majority of council stubbornly withholds that information from them. As much as I would like to “even the score”, I shall not stoop to hostage taking, which is to say, denying the citizenry full access to the dialogue that has taken place before the unblinking eye of the camera. (Oh, but I can relish the thought of it!)
With that said, I commend the latest (February 26, 2013) non-agenda speakers video to you. It contains not only the words of some very thoughtful citizens, but some eloquent soliloquys from Council Members Edmonds and Psimas. (I also encourage you to watch Council Member Moody’s statement at the end of the official city recording.) The verbal duel between Council Member Meeks and School Board Member Whitaker suggests that the Portsmouth Schools Foundation could raise serious money by selling tickets to a charity boxing match between the two. Whether the non-agenda portion of the meeting generated more light than heat is a topic you might want to weigh in on here after viewing the video. Once you have seen it, you should come away with a better appreciation of how much note taking Report Gary Harki must have done in putting together his account and a means of assessing the accuracy of his summary.