Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Civil is as civil does

Fear and loathing at the conference table.

The grapevine and the Internet were alive with chatter over last night's City Council conference session where Frank Weeden hurled the "F-bomb" at Council President Paul Pintella. Click here to read L.A. Parker's telling of the tale.

Now Mr. Weeden's remark was uncalled for and rude, but he did immediately apologize to his target (Pintella) and remove himself from the proceedings. Weeden's quick recognition of his faux paux does count for something in our book.

But what of the "target" himself? What role did he have in this that prompted such an outburst from a citizen?

If you've never attended a City Council meeting you wouldn't know it from the reporting, but the Council President can be quite rude to the public and his colleagues alike. Last night was a particularly blatant example.

Mr. Pintella was argumentative towards and dismissive of everyone and anyone who voiced an opinion that differed from his. This is troubling.

No Councilperson...especially the presiding officer, should argue and debate a citizen during the public comment portion of a public meeting. Mr. Pintella does this regularly...berating and arrogantly challenging the very people he took an oath to serve. This happened repeatedly last night and has happened regularly over the course of Mr. Pintella's tenure on Council.

Pintella debated and dismissed comments about the proposed gun purchase for the Trenton Police; he argued against a citizen's concern for preserving two grand buildings in the Greenwood-Hamilton Historic District in the face of having them razed to build a 25 story office building; and he was sharp with and critical of other speakers when they had difficulty making clear their points/questions to the Council.

The Council President also debated West Ward Councilwoman Lartigue when she asked to pull the second reading of the ordinance that would essentially strip the landmarks protection from the Greenwood Avenue buildings. Responding to the concerns raised by a citizen, she wanted to slow the process until there could be further discussion that such a move was in the best interest of the city. Pintella wanted to bulldoze ahead (and we all know his history when it comes to preservation issues---"new bricks" being better than "old bricks," "the train of progress" etc.).

Discussion and the expressing of different points of view with an eye towards forming a consensus is the backbone of our democratic process. And even if a consensus isn't reached, if the parties can agree to disagree and move forward its OK. What is not OK is the arrogance and condescension exhibited in Mr. Pintella's remarks toward citizen and colleague alike.

Another problem with the Council President's deportment is that we cannot think of a single time that he hasn't taken the Administration's side in one of these "discussions." Now he is entitled to his opinions on matters and they may just happen to coincide with that of the Mayor and his other minions. But it seems unlikely that a truly thinking individual would side 100% of the time with anyone on every issue. To us, this demonstrates a lack of cognitive ability on Pintella's part and/or an unwillingness to go against his "master," the Mayor.

That is a problem for the person who presides over the legislative body and therefor is supposed to provide the checks and balances to the administration. And it is but one more sign of the contempt has for the residents of Trenton.

Interesting that, even though his contempt and disdain for his colleagues is regularly on display, they were the ones who voted him into the position.

The final point we'd like to make about Mr.Pintella's pitiful performance as a presiding officer is that he breaks all of the rules governing the chair of a body.

It is our understanding that under proper and normal rules of procedure it is the presiding officer's duty to maintain order and move the agenda along. The chair is not supposed to express personal opinions on matters without first relinquishing the gavel. Certainly, they may clarify points, cite facts or ask/answer questions of a member of the board (in this case, Council) or body (the public).

Discussion and debate are to be moderated by the chair. The Council President's frequent blathering of personal opinions and beliefs on the matters before the group are inappropriate and out of line.

We're pretty certain Mr. Pintella has not studied or even familiarized himself with Robert's Rules of Order. If he had, he would know that his opinions are more properly kept to himself and expressed through his vote on the matter at the proper time.

It's a shame that neither the City Attorney or the highly compensated "Special Counsel" seem able or willing to correct and corral the Council President.

And it's a sad testament to the failed leadership of this city that a person "elected" to represent the city at large and then "chosen" by his colleagues to chair the council is such an incompetent.

Mr. Weeden apologized to the Councilman.

Councilman Pintella should apologize to the people of Trenton for failing to correctly uphold the duties of his office.


Capital 3 said...

I am appalled. I cannot imagine ANY committee chair who is not familiar with rules of order. Any behavior as you have described would warrant explicatives. Granted, I am quite fluid with my French (it runs rampant in my industry, especially with Chinese translation) and find no offense in frequent use of the 'f-bomb' (only vehemence). If what you have described is true, I commend Mr. Weeden and question Mr. Pintella's true motives. His position REQUIRES him to accommodate ALL opinions on the floor.

Having just learned of the possibility to raze the two historic buildings behind the train station to allow for a 25-story high-rise, I will be writing Jim Coston (I live in the South Ward). I cannot imagine the reversal of any historic status, nor can I justify the specific placement of a high rise at that site. The houses along the 'Station Walk' should NOT be razed. There is a dilapidated house in the next block north (behind the Walnut garage) that could stand 'development', as well as many sites along the Walnut Avenue Extension and the vacant lot at the corner of Clinton and State. If we're going to raze the Station Walk, why don't we raze Mill Hill as well- it's a prime location for high rises: so close to the station and downtown.

On the other hand, the condos at Clinton and Hamilton seem to be a fine endeavor.

Old Mill Hill said...

It is sad but true. Mr. Pintella has continually shown an ignorance of and/or disregard for rules of order.

That he's been allowed to get away with it for all this time is even sadder.