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Outdated rule, Crying wolf

Twice each month, Denise DeVore reads to the Findlay City Council. It’s debatable, though, if council members are always listening.
For at least 10 minutes, sometimes longer, DeVore, as council clerk, reads incoming correspondence from the public, officials and others about city business.
The same letters are contained in a packet of information each council member gets the Friday before the Tuesday council meetings. The same information is available to anyone the day before the meeting through the city’s website.
The clerk’s “speech” has taken place during council meetings as long as anyone can remember.
But an effort is afoot to mute DeVore, although Councilman-At-Large Grant Russel insists it isn’t personal. He believes that reading letters aloud should be done away with.
Russel, who made the suggestion at Tuesday’s meeting, believes the practice is outdated and redundant since council members already have the information.
“It’s not exactly anything we haven’t heard or seen before,” he said. “Much of it is code sections and other information that isn’t that useful.”
Reading letters during council meetings started years before the Internet, and probably because it was the best way to inform those who attended.
While council meetings are still televised, we have to believe there are few people who rely on the clerk’s reading to keep up with goings-on of council.
Russel says the time DeVore spends reading could be better used by council in discussion. He noted that council members could still ask that a particular letter be read by DeVore, or make reference to a letter if desired. An alternative would be for DeVore to read a summarized version of the letters.
Of course, any changes in meeting protocol should be vetted by council’s Rules Committee. But there seems no reason to deny Russel’s request as long as the information is readily available to the public.
That could occur either through the city’s website or by providing copies to those attending council meetings.
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How would you define emergency? Findlay City Council apparently has its own definition and it’s not open to debate.
Eight times during Tuesday’s council meeting, legislation was approved with emergency language attached, which means it is effective immediately and can’t be overturned by the public.
The better course for city business is always to give three readings before it is subject to council vote.
The reason for the three-reading rule is simple. It gives the public ample opportunity to object to the matter being considered, or, as often is the case, time to support it.
As we’ve argued here before, there are legitimate reasons for using the emergency designation, like when funding must be authorized to pay for an unexpected repair or for routine spending matters.
Granted, two of the matters given emergency status on Tuesday, the downtown traffic plan and a relatively small Lye Creek restoration project, have been in the public eye for some time.
The Lye Creek issue was even given three readings.
An argument could be made that the downtown plan needed to be moved quickly, considering an application for a grant needs to be filed early next month.
But planners say they have been discussing renovations to downtown, at least privately, for the past year. If they knew the grant application deadline was in May, why not introduce the plan to the public sooner?
Wasn’t anybody looking at the calendar?
As a Jan. 4 Courier story suggested, the council has turned emergency legislation into the normal course of business. More than 50 percent of ordinances and resolutions were approved by council last year without being given three readings.
When someone “cries wolf,” it means they have raised a false sense of alarm. When council makes a habit of issuing emergency declarations, what does that mean?

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