There was a City Council meeting last night.
Harrisburg City Council hasn’t had a legislative meeting for six weeks. The February 26th evening meeting was cancelled by the City Council President because of morning snow. And the March 12th meeting was cancelled because the majority of City Council was in Washington DC for The National League of Cities Congressional City Conference.
Neither City Council session was rescheduled, and except for a couple of committee meetings there hasn’t been a movement of bills, which is what City Council does.
Thus, there have been several Bills and Resolutions waiting to get introduced. In general that’s the first motion before City Council starts moving them around. The City Clerk reads a bill or resolution then City Council president tells him/her what to do with it. It goes to committee, gets amended, or is called for vote.
Bills have set orders of how they’re to be processed before vote. There’s places a bill must go and periods of times it must be available for public vetting before a vote can be called on it. Bills become the city’s ordinances. Per the City Code and rules of parliamentary process, if a bill gets approved then it becomes the law of the land.
Resolutions are different and not only is the process of one not as strict, a resolution doesn’t hold as much weight in the land as a law does.
President Wanda Williams called a straw vote
Of the two controversial items on the March 26th agenda, one was a bill—2nd Street name change; and one was a resolution—Gloria Martin Roberts (GMR) appointment to the Harrisburg Authority (THA) Board.
Because of the process of bills, we knew that the 2nd Street name change bill was only at “The First Reading” stage so there’d be no discussion on it until the public vetting session, which doesn’t ever happen on the first reading. The name change bill went to the Public Works Committee, Sandra Reid Chair (corrected from earlier version stating bill went to Public Safety Committee).
It was expected Resolution 10-2013—GMR on THA Board—would head in a similar direction into a committee. Based on the past routine of City Council when appointments for boards come forth, such a resolution would be placed in the Administration Committee where chair of that committee, President Wanda Williams, would eventually hold a public hearing to interview the candidate.
However, before this City Council meeting, Williams held a caucus table talk amongst City Councilors to go over the agenda. They typically do this so they can iron out questions and confusions with the clerk and the solicitor and one another. It’s always in the public’s view because anytime more than three City Councilors meet to talk, it must be in the public view. The talk is not officially recorded by the clerk and there are basically no rules that go along with it.
During this caucus, President Wanda Williams called a straw vote on the resolution to appoint Gloria Martin Roberts to the Harrisburg Authority Board. She looked at her colleagues and asked how they’d vote if she called the vote that night. Everyone was there except Bruce Weber who celebrating seder, publicly informed the President of his absence last week.
Kelly Summerford was first to be asked what his vote would be, and he said, “Yes, I’d vote yes.” Sandra Reid said yes next. Then Williams turned to Brad Koplinski who questioned the direction of the resolution. “Isn’t it going to go into committee?” Williams replied no, she wasn’t planning on having a public interview of Roberts because “everyone is familiar with her background.”
Koplinksi came back with, “I’d be inclined to say no.”
Before Eugenia Smith answered, Susan Brown Wilson protested the straw vote. She looked at Williams and declared, “I don’t think you should be asking this. It’s why we have a process.”
The President defended herself and retorted with, “Well, that’s your opinion.” Williams then turned to the others and explained herself. Motioning over her shoulder where the public seating is and where The Harrisburg Authority Board Chair Bill Cluck was sitting, Williams said she wondered what everyone thought about the conflict that could occur between “him” and Roberts. She also said she didn’t want to call the vote in case the votes weren’t there for Gloria Martin Roberts to get the appointment.
Then caucus broke so the official legislative session could start, and on the way up, there was grumbling of City Councilors. At their seats, right before the meeting’s start, Susan Brown Wilson pointed to the fact City Councilor Bruce Weber wasn’t present, and said to Wanda Williams, “You shouldn’t call that vote tonight.”
She sent the resolution to the Administration Committee, Wanda Williams, Chair.
What happens next is unknown. One of a few things can transpire.
The resolution to appoint GMR to the THA Board can sit in committee and not move, which is what happens sometimes.
Or as what happens in most cases, there will be a public hearing on it. The hearing will be publicly advertised and at the set time, the candidate—Gloria Martin Roberts—will come before the committee to describe her qualifications for the specific appointment, which is to fill a vacancy on THA’s Board. City Councilors get to ask questions, and members of the public can, too, as well as make comments in regard to the nomination.
The resolution could also be moved directly from committee right up for vote without that public hearing. In other words, it’s tucked where it is right now, but next legislative session on April 9, 2012, it could be brought up for vote at the call of the President.
So, what will Wanda Williams do? Let it sit, let it publicly heard, let it go right to vote?
If the caucus table conduct indicates anything, it shows Williams wasn’t considering having a public hearing on the resolution. Her words were clear, “everyone is familiar of her background.” Therefore, no need for a public vetting session of Gloria Martin Roberts.
The natural question is this, is everyone really familiar with GMR’s background? Especially in light of the recent multimillion settlement between the Harrisburg School District and former Superintendent Gerald Kohn, it seems a public vetting of Roberts qualifications and background is appropriate. After all, she was the President of the Board of Control that made the decision to prematurely terminate Kohn’s contract.
Susan Brown Wilson stopped it, though.
City Council President Wanda Williams is in a delicate political position. She is an incumbent up for re-election this season for what she says is her last term. Williams has been on City Council since 2005 when she ran with the Reed Team. Not only has she served on Council, she previously sat on the Harrisburg School Board, first elected in 1998 and president in 2000.
Whether coincidence or not, after the “no due process” bulldozing of the N6th Street Community Garden this past September, Williams has been noticeably more supportive of Mayor Linda Thompson’s proposals. What occurred was a marked change in attitude noticed by many who were watching, and some of the best examples of her change of heart can be found during the 2013 Budget process when she continually defended the Mayor’s Budget anytime it was questioned or suggested cut. This was quite a drastic change from William’s former outspoken protest to the Mayor and her ways.
Now there’s this. It’s a very controversial move for the Mayor to nominate Roberts for the THA Board. It drips same ole, same ole political power tactics using the same ole, same ole players. Roberts on THA Board may only be one vote, but it’s access to the innards of THA’s business, executive sessions, negotiations, and decisions. Her presence on the Board would be integral as an intelligence gatherer, and intelligence gatherers are key players of any blueprint to stay relevant, important, and in power.
A quick success of getting Roberts on that board would have been ideal for Thompson. The nomination was just made public on Friday, so only a bit of the public had been made aware of the nomination. There hasn’t yet been much public awareness, discussion, or analysis of the nomination. There’s definitely been questioning and complaint, but not enough for enough of the public to hear it and understand the validity of the objections. Some of the objections are valid and just like Roberts’ qualifications, they deserve to be publicly vetted.
On Tuesday, Thompson almost got that success she politically seeks. It seems very probable that had it been called to vote as Williams intended, the resolution appointing GMR to THA would have passed 4-2. Susan Brown Wilson stopped it, though.
With it currently sitting in committee, there’s more time for more public attention to the matter.
And this is definitely something the public should be paying attention to.
Illustration by Ammon Perry: Doodletillomega: Illustrations and Drawings by Ammon Perry