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A Point In The Storm

May 19, 2008

The angry outburst by Larry Deutsch at a recent Hartford city council meeting was out of order. But he did raise one valid issue.

Mr. Deutsch, a first-term council member from the Working Families Party, had proposed a resolution to provide a grant to the Immaculate Conception homeless shelter. A majority of the Democratic-controlled council voted to table the measure. That vote under parliamentary rules should have ended all debate on the matter.

Mr. Deutsch, however, pressed on, insisting he be allowed to speak on the matter because "the public has a right to hear what is being tabled." This led to an increasingly vocal contretemps between Mr. Deutsch and council President Calixto Torres and nearly got the red-faced Deutsch ejected from the meeting.

We cannot fault the council for tabling the resolution. It came in the midst of lengthy budget hearings. With pressure to reduce spending because of uncertain state aid and a faltering economy, the council has to carefully evaluate all spending.

Also, council members say they have been working with a homelessness task force to craft a regional solution to the problem. All of this argues against ad hoc grants until the budget work is completed. Mr. Deutsch's resolution was not killed, but tabled for future consideration.

But Mr. Deutsch makes a good point when he says people ought to know what is being tabled.

Much council work is done behind closed doors, in caucus. In public meetings, many items are tabled, referred to committee or passed on the consent calendar, all with no substantive discussion. People in the audience can follow on the printed agenda, although the synopses aren't always clear.

But the increasing number of people watching the meetings on local access cable television have no idea what transpires if items are tabled or passed on consent. That would seem to defeat the purpose of televising the meeting.

The council needs to move routine business without time-consuming debate. But time needs to be balanced against transparency. Council colleagues should respond to Mr. Deutsch's complaint and summarize each action or resolution well enough for the public to understand what is going on.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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