Although a Monday afternoon scheduling more or less precluded the possibility of my attending a meeting of the City Council over the previous weeks, I have been able to watch a recorded meeting on television – a medium that in and of itself presents a set of questions different from those that are likely to arise from the direct contact one enjoys when interacting with Council members at City Hall. I will not pretend that my understanding of the workings of this council, or that of the other governing bodies on the syllabus, is going to compare favorably to the understanding of a student who has witnessed first hand the proceedings of one these meetings.
For the purposes of this paper, however, I do think that there are valuable thoughts to be expressed regarding the interface between the government and the public given the fact that most citizens do not attend such meetings, for any number of very practical or personal reasons. Just based on having watched these meetings on television, several important questions occurred to me about the nature of urban politics today and the civic culture of both those who comprise the government and the primary actors shaping the community at large. So, with my constraints in mind, I will offer my thoughts and observations.
It is not insignificant to me that the first great surprise I encountered in watching a City Council Meeting was that, in the first 45 minutes, I heard more ambient jazz than I did political discussion. I had asked my roommate to begin recording the meeting at 5:30 PM sharp, and was slightly confused to find, upon hitting the play button on my video camera (we rigged this to the TV—no DVR), that for no less than ten whole minutes, the Baltimore City Council amounted to some center type display via a truly vintage editing suite. Now, while no one can fashionably claim to dislike the cool dynamism of an upbeat jazz number, it was at first a bit shocking to discover that punctuality wasn't a crucial part of selling to the public an image of readiness and responsibility.
[...] I highlight this not because I'm a nitpicker and I care about a meeting starting late, but rather because, in some ways, it perfectly underscores the always imperfect coalition of leaders that government is. The composition of an elective body necessarily brings together interests that maneuver independently—and together, of course, for leverage and trust—within a system of ethical limitations on action. Something as banal as starting on time on a Monday afternoon is a window onto the bigger picture of how government is designed to work. [...]
[...] Politics of Baltimore City: City council observations and other thoughts Although a Monday afternoon scheduling conflict more or less precluded the possibility of my attending a meeting of the City Council over the previous weeks, I have been able to watch a recorded meeting on television a medium that in and of itself presents a set of questions different from those that are likely to arise from the direct contact one enjoys when interacting with Council members at City Hall. [...]
[...] The late start was one thing, and it was fine, but I would like to know what was going on all that time during the recess, because until that point, not one member of City Council had really done too much more than say yea or nay to the new guy and announce that they were in fact present. It has been said in lectures that the environment at a City Council meeting is largely informal. There isn't anything wrong with that, and in fact it can be highly amenable to the [...]
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