Tonight – Motion for Council to Hear HARC-Ruling Appeals Itself

The Georgetown City Council tonight – Tuesday, October 24th, 2006 – will consider the motion to remove from the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Board of Adjustment, jurisdiction over the appeals process from a HARC ruling, and to hear such appeals directly itself. What follows is’s open address to the Council, arguments against their motion that you may wish to review – we had thought to address the Council in person tonight, but instead we will now wait until the next meeting in two weeks. There are two important issues happening before this motion tonight, so it will be fairly late when it comes to be read. Tactically, if you want to show support for any of the sentiments below, give the meeting a miss tonight and wait until the second reading. Stay tuned here of course, we’ll keep you apprised of events.

To the City Council

  1. As an appellate body you can only rule on how logically HARC applied its interpretation of the Ordinance to an applicant’s fact situation, and how logically HARC interpreted the meaning of the language, based on common legal usage and precedent. Any formal body could make this review.
  2. If you interpret the ordinance differently from HARC, your logic probably won’t be as good as HARC’s, because HARC is very faithful to the language of the ordinance.
  3. You have said you will not become expert in the Ordinance, which is more than 100 pages thick. You will follow the recommendation of city staff. But city staff are less capable than HARC at reading your ordinance.
  4. The strict interpretation – the more faithful – comes from HARC. The looser interpretation comes from city staff. So you the legislative body will interpret your own law more loosely, and less faithfully, than it should be interpreted.
  5. If you interpret the ordinance differently from HARC, but don’t amend it, then you cloud its future interpretation. You weaken the law itself.
  6. If you review an appeal, and rule against the HARC ruling, it means you have rewritten your own ordinance on-the-fly, without rewriting it. So your law stands, without an amendment, yet with a clouded interpretation.
  7. If you bend this law, you weaken the uniform application of the law. You will upset the level playing field, you will give advantage or discriminate unfairly in individual cases.
  8. So you weaken your own law. You subvert your own law. And you subvert the rule of law, the force of law, the uniform application of law.
  9. So you weaken democracy.
  10. If Georgetown had a Constitution, what you propose would be unconstitutional.
  11. This is why we only allow the legislative power to those whom we directly elect.
  12. The people of Georgetown don’t know why you want to bring this power into your own hands – if the ordinance doesn’t accommodate a particular fact situation, you already have the power to change the ordinance.
  13. You give the appearance of wanting to bend your own law, instead of using your existing power to amend it, cleanly, in the light of day.
  14. You give the appearance of impropriety. The Council of the former Mayor went to great efforts to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and so should you.
  15. When the people of Georgetown sent you here as your privilege to serve your city, when they elected you in their full enjoyment of the democratic process, they expected you to enlarge democracy, rather than diminish it. They thought you would act and vote in favor of democracy, rather than against it.
  16. If you approve this motion, you are voting against democracy, rather than in favor of it.
  17. You show even more disrespect to democracy by choosing not to preserve Georgetown’s current appellate standard of a super-majority vote. A super majority is one vote closer to unanimous than an ordinary majority. It requires greater clarity, greater persuasion, greater conviction. A super majority breeds greater democracy.
  18. As an elected body, you should show some respect for democracy.
  19. If you become impatient with democracy, don’t be surprised if democracy becomes impatient with you.
  20. Always remember that you were the ones who wanted to elevate an administrative process to the level of representative politics. Politics is where the people live, and where you get voted in, and voted out. And where you are called to account, and forced to make an answer.
  21. Everything you do in the matter of HARC and the Square and the ordinance, will be watched, and remembered, and will go on your political record. And you will be held accountable at the polls, or perhaps even before then.
  22. Many ironic consequences will result from your action if you approve this motion, and the first irony has already occurred.
  23. Every matter that comes before HARC, and every position that city staff take, will henceforth come under greater and more exacting scrutiny than before you chose to bend settled procedures with this motion.
  24. In choosing to weaken your own legislative integrity, and to weaken your own law, simply to uphold administrative convenience, you subject the entire administrative process to a greater inconvenience.
  25. It stands clear to everyone that city staff have acted incompetently in the matter of Romeo’s, and you have chosen not to address this point.
  26. And this is the first irony, that in choosing to sweep the incompetence of staff under the rug, you elevate their actions to the same heightened level of political scrutiny that you invite now by your own actions.
  27. City staff repeatedly gave Romeo’s poor advice and inadequate service, and staff repeatedly came to the City process with recommendations that violated public policy, as the voters had approved, and as you had made law.
  28. You the Council could give clear direction to city staff, but you decline to do so, and instead announce that you will place even greater reliance on city staff in the future.
  29. Mr. Brandenburg could give better direction to his people, but if Mr. Brandenburg will not discipline his own staff and give them direction, then he will have to take the heat.
  30. The people will call to account not only the members of the Council but also the City Manager, and his staff.
  31. Remember that you chose it this way.

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