To the City Council:

The city charter says

Except in the cases of executive sessions authorized by section twenty-three A of chapter thirty-nine, all meetings of the city council shall be open to the press and to the public, and the rules of the city council shall provide that citizens and employees of the city shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat.

It appears sometime in the past, someone crafted an interpretation of these words which would allow the City Council to meet and not give citizens “a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat.” I’m sure it may have been for some good reason along the lines of, “We, the City Council, need to be able to meet and discuss matters before us without devoting the whole meeting to listening to the public talk about matters before us.”

Thus the “roundtable” meeting was born. I think it was illegal then and I think it is illegal now.

The City Council Rules were voted without (much) debate at the beginning of your term, and reflect the wishes of some long-gone previous incarnation of the City Council. The rules are broken, in multiple senses of the phrase. The rules are ignored when they get in the way. The rules are invoked inconsistently to stifle debate. The rules are also broken if they actually keep you from doing your job.

I know you all and I know you are capable of having a discussion among yourselves and giving the public “a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat.” It’s your meeting and you control it, not some long-gone previous incarnation of the City Council, not the city manager, not the city solicitor and not the public.

The city charter gives you that power. All it asks in return is that you do what it says. I recognize that my charter right must be invoked reasonably and I want you to devote as much time as you can to discussing this among yourselves in whatever way you find most useful. Even if the charter didn’t require it, you should open all your meetings (and subcommittee meetings) to whatever form of public communication (speech, TV, Internet, letters, emails, etc., etc.) is reasonably available and you should give the public a reasonable amount of time to be heard (literally).

I ask that you get a fresh start, and embrace the spirit of the Charter’s words this Friday at 9:30 a.m. Find a way to hear the public while having a (real) discussion among yourselves and city staff about this important matter before you, the MIT PUD-5 Zoning Amendment.

Tom Stohlman, Channing Street