Public comment ‘test’ merits a failing grade

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

What a bad idea.

That’s about the only way to characterize Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby’s handling of public comment at the April 14 Board of Aldermen meeting.

For many years, board agendas have included a designated period for public comment for non-agenda items. In addition, residents have been allowed to address the board on all items as aldermen work their way through the agenda. But on April 14, Roby announced that he wanted to “test” having residents address the board solely during the designated period for public comment.

Roby’s “test” certainly fosters the growing perception that he is attempting to limit public comment. Quite frankly, the timing couldn’t be worse, given the perception by print and electronic media outlets that transparency — particularly with regard to needlessly keeping the proposal to redevelop the former Crestwood Plaza under wraps for nearly a month — is sorely lacking in Crestwood government.

Allowing the residents to comment on every agenda item dates back to February 2004, when then-Ward 2 Alderman Gary Vincent made the suggestion. At that time, the agenda contained a period for public comment for non-agenda items near the middle of meetings and a second period for public comment near the end of meetings.

But Vincent rightly noted that a resident “may have an appropriate comment to make, but the board could already decide issues before the comment was taken,” according to the minutes from Feb. 24, 2004.

Board President Richard Breeding of Ward 1 was the city’s acting mayor at the time, and the minutes stated, “Discussion ensued and consensus of the board was to allow acting Mayor Breeding to control the taking of public comment in regard to issues as the issues are discussed by the board, rather than the end of a meeting.”

During his mayoral campaign, Roby pledged his commitment to transparent government, saying the public has an “absolute right to know what we are doing at all times … I believe in open government completely.”

Unfortunately, transparency has not been the cornerstone of the Roby administration. Past Crestwood officials’ willingness to hear residents’ comments as they conduct business has been a shining example of transparency in south county.

To consider changing that — even as a “test” — deserves a failing grade.