If there's anything I've learned from Dr. Phil—besides the fact that you should never take weight-loss advice from an overweight man—it's that healthy communication is the key to all successful relationships. Including, even, the relationship between the government and the governed.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution included a right to redress your grievances, which is a fancy way of saying we can all be nags. Hence, the City of Portland has "Open Communication," a three-minute period in which residents can talk to city council about whatever the hell they want.
Although the open communication is meant to give Portlanders a chance to "inform" the council, it has unfortunately— and entertainingly— become more of a freak show, with a cast of Wednesday morning regulars all vying to out-embarrass municipal government. But, it also has a downside: There are only five open slots per week, so people with real issues to address are often pushed aside.
"I think people who have serious concerns for the city council find it hard to even get on the agenda," City Auditor Gary Blackmer said. "And when they do get on, they're bookended by people who are talking about irrelevant or non-serious issues."
So this Wednesday, August 2, Blackmer—along with Mayor Potter and Commissioners Erik Sten and Dan Saltzman—is introducing a way to cut back on the constant parade of crazies: Each person can deliver an open communication once a month at most. No more nonsensical tirades and incoherent personal stories.
The ordinance already has enough votes to pass, but not everyone in city hall is buying into the once-per-month limitation. Commissioner Sam Adams calls the ordinance a "solution looking for a problem," explaining that in two-thirds of council meetings in the past year, there have been spots left open.
"This is a little draconian," Adams said. "It's up to us to provide an open forum. It's the people's time, not our time. I'm not here to judge whether what people are saying is relevant or kooky or smart."
No matter what, expect an outcry from people who've gotten used to their weekly chat with the council.
In other, totally unrelated news, it's beginning to sound like there's no keeping Dave Lister off the campaign trail. If there's an open commissioner seat in 2008, Lister says, he's going for it. An open seat will only happen if Randy Leonard retires—or if Adams runs for mayor.
"Small business needs representation on the council," Lister says. "I'm willing to put myself up as the sacrificial lamb."