Interview #82: Syracuse, NY Councilor Khalid Bey (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Khalid Bey is dissatisfied in many ways with how the Syracuse Common Council operates. It is not transparent to the public and even he gets little notice about what transpires in the council chamber. We discussed the parts that are getting better, but also the parts that aren’t going to change anytime soon.

Q: Councilor, I want to read you this tweet:

How accurate is that observation?

A: I think unfortunately it may be pretty accurate. One of the concerns I’ve expressed in the past relative to council meetings is there is more politics involved and not as much good government. I always make the statement that politics disturbs good government. I’ve also made an effort to push for a charter review to reduce some of the ambiguity. There’s just some things that I think need to be made black and white so that the people understand the discussion that is going on in the chambers.

Q: If the Syracuse Common Council meetings were a board game, which would they be?

A. Monopoly

B. Jenga

C. Hungry, Hungry Hippos

A: I would probably say Jenga.

Q: So you have to be really careful because at some point it could all come tumbling down?

A: That’s right!

Q: Not only does Syracuse not video stream its meetings, but I did not see your meeting minutes online either. When I called the clerk’s office, they told me those documents are only available in their office in a physical book of council minutes. Why has the common council allowed this situation to continue?

A: Well, it’s interesting because I’d be surprised if most of the councilors even know that. Because I didn’t know that. I think oftentimes what you’re dealing with is certainly the city being a little behind the times. And we’re talking from a technological perspective. But also, established custom gets mistaken for rule. And sometimes these established customs have to be brought to the attention of the council and others for them to change. So I appreciate you bringing that to my attention because I will tell you: I did not know that.

Syracuse, NY Councilor Khalid Bey

Q: How often are you surprised about what you’re asked to vote on in a council meeting?

A: We get the agenda book less than 24 hours before we’re obligated to come and discuss it intelligently. This is an unfair advantage to the council. This council takes a beating from the media and the public because it often appears ill-equipped–which it most certainly is–having to speak intelligently on something that it just received less than 24 hours. In comparison to somebody from the administration who may have had it for weeks and months.

Q: Do you think the news coverage of the common council has to be thorough precisely because there is so little official documentation of what happens?

A: I think so. Certainly one of the things that people talk about is when they go live stream, the behavior of some of the councilors will change. That is true. That is an unforutnate thing because I need them to see the behavior they don’t know about.

Q: What behavior do you wish or hope will go away once there are cameras in the meetings?

A: I’ll speak for me. When I push legislation, they respond sometimes as if they’re doing me a favor. So I always try to make the case to them, listen: if you have a distaste for me, fine. But it’s not about me. You’re doing work for the people. And sometimes the responses sound as if you’re doing favors for me. If you watch them, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Follow Councilor Khalid Bey on Twitter: @khalidbey

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