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"Too much, too late"

"Back in 1994, when the city council was considering a bicycle helmet ordinance the first time around, a letter-writer to the Review suggested offhandedly that the law should be more inclusive. After she and her husband sat through the council's deliberations on other matters, she wrote, our heads hurt for days.We thought back to her droll comment last Wednesday, as the council passed a law mandating helmet use by bicyclists - and skateboarders, scooter riders and those on horseback - on public roads, sidewalks and trails. The hour was 11:30 p.m. Our noggin still throbs.A year or so ago, the mayor and council mulled ways to keep meetings to a reasonable length. Last week they demonstrated that any progress made is easily lost - and as a result, an ordinance deserving generous debate was passed in haste, simply because of the lateness of the hour. A few ongoing problems:1) The overstuffed agenda. Amongst other items on the docket Wednesday were two public presentations; a wetlands ordinance revision destined to turn into an argument over building moratoria; two hot-button sewer extensions; and a contentious latecomer fee hearing. Those would be a full evening by themselves, without the nut-and-bolts of committee reports, public comment and other ephemera.In assembling the agenda, whoever is estimating how long a given topic will take to resolve - 10 minutes for this item, 25 minutes for that - is a hopeless optimist. Wednesday, topics that were supposed to be discussed at 9 p.m. didn't turn up until two hours later. Several items had to be pulled entirely, or the meeting would have run into Thursday morning. Experience alone should dictate shorter agendas.2) The irrelevant topic. Perhaps most egregious was a public hearing on latecomer charges for a residential street improvement in the Bucklin Hill area - germane to no one but the developer and a few nearby property owners. Such hearings have a tiresome predictability: neighbors contest assessments that should have been explained and justified long before; developers bemoan the unfairness of it all if they can't recoup their investment; city staff may or may not be on hand to explain how the assessment process works, which at least half the council will have forgotten since the last hearing.Clearly, such hearings should be held separate from regular council meetings - by themselves, on some other night of the week. Their only policy implications are by inference, but the public at large is held hostage during the endless quibbling. 3) The missing gavel. We'd be remiss if we didn't point out that during the assessment hearing in question, one woman was allowed to hold the podium for a full 30 minutes - reciting an endless litany of grievances over cost and notification.Everyone deserves their say, but such comments should have been submitted in writing long before the hearing itself; the council could then have asked for amplification if needed. Of course, that would make it incumbent on council members to read the material before the meeting - and for the mayor to actually bang the gavel once in a while to shut people up - but one can always hope...But back to the helmet ordinance. We applaud its passage, and think it makes fine sense for bicyclists, primarily because they are subject to the same rules of the road as motor vehicles. Should it, though, have been extended to skateboarders and so forth? Like one council member, we think those activities fall more under the heading of play than travel. We're not sure it can or will be enforced.But then, who wanted to argue the point at 11:30 p.m.? "

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