Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blanco's surprise legacy

(Sketch: New Council seating plan. By Ray Blanco. 6/28/2006?)

To the surprise of the general public and -- rumor has it -- the chagrin of the Administration, Ray Blanco's new Council seating plan debuted on Monday evening at the Council's agenda-setting session.

Let's face it, this wonderful room has real problems as a venue for the Council agenda sessions -- though it seems to have served as such for many decades.

  • It is not a very "bright" room.
  • Hearing speakers is always a problem, especially with the wretched air conditioning units running full blast.
  • Seating is always problematic -- people have sometimes been excluded because of occupancy limits.

For these good reasons, Council President Ray Blanco sketched a new layout for the room, reproduced above.

(PT is reminded of the quip by robber baron J.P. Morgan, "A man always has TWO reasons for the things he does: a good one, and the real one." Rumor has it that the Council President was roused to action by his pique at the Mayor and Administration for continued slights against Council prerogatives and abuse of proper procedures.)

Whatever the merits of the redesign, it perhaps raises more questions than it answers.

Ray's sketch of the seating for the public is overly optimistic, not taking into account the actual amount of the room filled by the Council's various tables and gear.

The press, if sequestered as in the sketch, would neither be able to see nor hear anything. And of course NOBODY would want that! Would they?

The bulky antique tables -- original to the chamber -- work perhaps less well in this configuration than in the "T" which is replaced.

The public can neither see nor hear those at the guest table, and visuals like renderings end up having no place that works for everyone in the room.

The small desk lamps for each Councilor underscore the need for better lighting, but would ruin the tables if affixed to them and otherwise become a chore for the maintenance crew if they have to schlepped back and forth every time there is a meeting.

While care was taken to ensure mikes for all who need, these are NOT for an amplification system -- which is desperately needed -- but to guarantee that all speakers are picked up on the Clerk's tapes.

PT doesn't think this layout is going to work as a permanent solution. BUT...

We should be absolutely thankful to Ray for having put the issue squarely on the table.


About 17,000 square feet on the lower level of the old Tepper's building has been dedicated to the public use rent-free in perpetuity as part of the development agreement.

An already existing ample courtyard can be adapted for direct entry from the outdoors. There is plenty of off-street parking.

There is more than enough room for a capacious Council chamber -- which can be designed from scratch to meet the needs of everyone -- Council, presenters and public -- with adequate and modern lighting, cooling, seating and audio-visual resources. There is even room for the individual Councilors to have office space.

AND there is already more than $460,000 sitting in the bank** -- courtesy of Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- which can ONLY be used on the Tepper's project, and which will be lost to the city if not spent by June 30, 2007.

New Council digs would be as good a way as any to spend the money.

So what's not to like?

-- Dan Damon

** The money was obtained by the efforts of Mayor McWilliams during Sen. Lautenberg's FIRST Senate career. It has been frequently discussed by past Councils and
in her transition memorandum Pat Ballard Fox reminded the new Administration of both its existence and the danger of imminent loss if unspent.

N.B.: The fog over Monday's selection of Council officers has been lifted, and PT has been enlightened -- by Clerk Wyatt. Proper procedure was followed. The election took place in the (brief) public meeting required by law which ALWAYS precedes the Council's executive sessions. The fact perhaps could have been made clearer, but everyone will survive. You WILL want to come out tonight, when Clerk Wyatt will conduct the opening of the meeting until the new permanent officers are elected. And besides, IMPORTANT BUSINESS is being acted upon.

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