Monday, November 05, 2007

George Pokrant's Non-Secret Secret

Does Borough Council President George Pokrant Have Too Much Power? Some have made that assertion. I’ve heard claims from the Tin Foil Hat Society that Pokrant has forced policy down Council’s throat. I’ve also seen Pokrant referred to as a dictator.

The truth be told, Pokrant is the president of Council. It’s his job to shape policy. And Council apparently totally approves. In January of last year, Pokrant was voted unanimously to retain the title of president. Either all of Council swoons at the mention of his name, they are terrified of him, or they approve of his work.

First choice – I doubt it. Pokrant is a nice guy, but Clark Gable he isn’t.
Second choice – I doubt it. This isn’t Jersey. Grove City isn’t known for its coercion tactics or contract hits.
Third choice – We might be on to something. There is no doubt that at least two folks on Council aren’t members of the Friends of George Club, but they still voted for him. So, either they still approve of his work or they are cowards for not voting for their principles.

And let’s be honest. Things run so smoothly here (thanks, Borough Manager Vance Oakes!) that the common choices before Council come down to deciding parade routes and whether or not to allow a festival in Memorial Park. Sometimes we even approve the lowest bid on a project or approve a new construction tap-in for our sewer system. Tough stuff.

Sure, there are some tough decisions, but those have full council support. Infrastructure repair? Unanimous. Passing budgets? Unanimous.

There are ten adults on Council. All of them are capable of reason and thought. All of them are fully able to talk to their constituents. All of them are invited to every Council regular meeting, committee meeting, work session, and executive session. It’s up to them – as adults – to show up and represent their constituents.

Anyone who has sat in a work session or committee meeting knows that Pokrant typically talks little, focusing on keeping the discussion on track. He waits until all members have been able to share their views before he weighs in. Hardly a case of someone dictating policy.

Either we all approve of Pokrant’s work, or we are all fools.

Of course, I’ve already discussed the ridiculous notion of Pokrant and solicitor Tim Bonner having secret meetings. Here’s the truth – if Pokrant needs to talk to Bonner about an issue, he runs it by Council first. Oh, the secrecy!

Let’s also discuss the alleged virtual meetings that happen over e-mail. Here’s the context: Pokrant e-mail: “Should we have a meeting about subject X?”
Council reply: “Yes.”

Of course, in 2007, are we are supposed to make phone calls to determine if we should meet? Wouldn’t that be a type of virtual meeting? Maybe we should just have mandatory nightly public meetings to determine if we need to have a meeting…. Of course, don’t forget the cost of constant meetings – we have to light and heat that borough building! E-mail is simply a quick and easy way to determine how to meet.

But what about secretly discussing policy? So, if two Council members discuss an issue, then that’s a public meeting? What about when a citizen talks to a Council member or two? Should that be advertised as a public meeting, too? Where are the minutes from all of those meetings? If I go to a car show and bump into the Mayor and another Council member, is that a quorum?

Confused yet? You should be. I’ll put it clearly. There are no policies being determined via e-mail. If there needs to be a decision about something, it is brought before a quorum of Council, in public, at the borough building.

Finally, let’s examine the thought of Pokrant hand-picking candidates. Again, this is another laughable accusation. Every election, people with political minds (politician or not) wonder who will fill a vacant seat. Sometimes, no one does. How does that serve the public? Most often, politicos know of someone who may be interested and they ask.

I’ve done it. I helped my brother-in-law run for school board in 2005. I asked around when there wasn’t a candidate running in Ward 4 during the primary. Besides, how many people would ask someone that they totally disagreed with to join their political office? “Hey, you and I don’t agree on a single thing…why don’t you run for Council?”

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