Last night at the Common Council meeting, Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) suggested that, in order to engage the community more effectively with city government, the Council should, starting in the new year, hold its informal meetings in different locations throughout the city. This, he said, would send a message to citizens: "If you can't make it to City Hall, City Hall will come to you." Council president Don Moore observed that this would be useful, particularly since Dan and Mary Udell have stopped videotaping Council meetings to be shown on public access TV. Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) declared it "a great idea," calling it "traveling City Hall." Alderman Ohrine Stewart was similarly enthusiastic, saying, "It shows the citizens of Hudson that you care." Only Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) expressed reservations, commenting that giving adequate prior notice of meetings in changing locations might prove difficult.
Mayor William Hallenbeck, however, raised objections to meetings of the legislative body taking place in locations other than City Hall. During the meeting, he suggested that there might be something in the city charter prohibiting such an irregularity. Always on the scent of a good political squabble, reporter John Mason contacted both the mayor and Haddad after the meeting for further comment. He reports what they had to say to today's Register-Star: "Council meetings may go on the road."
Although the mayor seems to think there is some kind of hidden agenda behind what he disses as the Common Council's "traveling roadshow," the suggestion can also be seen as an attempt by the Council to get closer to the model of the New England Town Meeting, without actually abandoning the model of representative democracy.
The idea of taking City Hall to the people calls to mind how city government used to operate in Hudson--twenty years ago. The Common Council met once a month to vote on resolutions. The content of those resolutions was not known in advance by the public, and it wasn't always clear if the aldermen had read the resolutions before they were asked to vote on them. If a member of the public wanted to speak at a Common Council meeting, he or she had to get permission from the Common Council president, who in those days was Mim Traver. This had to be done in advance of the meeting by contacting Traver, who would want to know what you wanted to speak to the Council about.
It was at the beginning of Ken Cranna's single term as mayor, in 2000, that the practice of having an informal Common Council meeting was initiated. Occurring the week before the Council's regular meeting, the informal meeting was meant to serve two purposes: (1) resolutions were introduced, giving the aldermen eight days to study their content and consult their constituents, if need be, before they voted; (2) the public was invited to address the Council on any issue of concern.
Although the idea that the Council needs to go to the people gives the impression that Hudson is some vast metropolis where it is necessary to travel great distances to get to City Hall, there is nothing sinister or seditious about the proposal. It is simply an attempt--whether sensible or wrongheaded--to engage the people of Hudson in the governing of their city. If the plan proves to be impracticable or ineffective, it can be abandoned, with no harm done.
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