Our View: Is approval the only option?

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An Alexandria City Council public hearing. (File Photo)
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The language in dockets prepared by city staff for council to consider is strange. The dockets say that all items being discussed at a public hearing will be approved.

That’s right, approval of items is the only listed option. The language is the same for all items up for a vote: “Public Hearing, Second Reading, and Final Passage of …”

Perhaps there’s an arcane legal reason that proposed ordinances are worded this way in dockets. We’re just not familiar with it – and would guess the public isn’t either.

For instance, the docket for city council’s public hearing on Saturday informs us that there will be final passage of the Phase II Dockless Mobility Pilot Program, of an ordinance to amend permit parking districts and changes to three other existing ordinances – after public hearings on each item.

Councilors clearly have the ability to take action other than passing items that come before them. Our city’s legislative body can amend, defer or defeat as well as pass items such as the proposed Phase II scooter program.

If the city isn’t required by law to word dockets in this way, then the current language should be changed. Because intentional or not, saying on the docket that the item in question will receive final approval begs the question of why a public hearing is even being held on said item.

There are several better ways to word docket items. Perhaps, “Public Hearing, Second Reading, and Final Consideration of …” That’s better, but still leaves out the possibility that an item might be deferred, in which case it’s not the final consideration.

Or perhaps the docket should read, “Public Hearing, Second Reading, and Council Vote on …” This wording would be more accurate, as it would encompass acceptance, rejection, amendment or deferral of whatever is being considered.

Yes it’s a small thing, but semantics matter. Wording in dockets that appears to say there’s no alternative except acceptance of whatever city staff proposes only reinforces the perception of many in the city that their input at meetings is for naught.

In fact, our residents do have a say on issues before council. Language in our dockets should reflect that.

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