Topaz: Council operations silence councilors' and public's voices
This year, highlighted by the pandemic, a number of problems have been made obvious at the city council of St. Helens.
I am a city councilor, charged with representing the citizens of St. Helens and I have not been able to do that to my satisfaction. With the use of Zoom, the ability for the staff to silence me by hitting the switch has left a number of questions unanswered, and in many cases, not completely stated. Zoom has also greatly limited the citizens of St. Helens from participating in the council meetings. Questions like, "How much did it cost to purchase the materials to dechlorinate the drinking water dumped when repairing the reservoir?" "How much of the rent due from the marijuana property has been collected?" "Does the city have a copy of the liability insurance and workmen's comp insurance on this same property?" "And when did the tourism get the right to dictate the parking spaces for the town Halloween's event?"
These are questions that should have been allowed to be asked, and when the staff controlled the conversation, the silence of the majority of the council indicates the staff is running the city and not the council.
This abdication of responsibility by the council in how the Halloween event is going forward is obvious with just one example. The usual requirement to have the safety review has been eliminated. This review, usually required the police, fire, EMT and CERT groups to make sure fire lanes were in place, street closures were designated, command structures were in place and the council was notified and approved these conditions. A further example of the council not representing the citizens is the continuation of the Halloween event this year with the presence of the pandemic. A large number of citizens and groups, having seen what is happening when large groups get together and not wanting a repeat of the increase rate of spread of the virus, want to eliminate this year's celebration of Halloweentown in St. Helens.
The city council has turned a deaf ear, and only following the directions of tourism is continuing to go forward with the as-yet unapproved plans.
When I am electronically cut off from asking a question at a Zoom meeting, I will be forced to leave the meeting, for at that point, the citizens that I represent will no longer have a voice in their government. To stay at such a meeting is to give voice to a farce.
Stephen R. Topaz
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