Megan Barry and the "Gang of Five" (now the "Gang of Nine") brought the Mayor's second attempt to end the Fairgrounds as we know it quickly after a November 16 rebuff of the original plan; so quickly that it was almost like they were trying to maximize holiday distractions. If that was the case, their plan backfired as red-clad "Save My Fairgrounds" proponents filled the council gallery for the third council meeting in a row, even though the Barry Gang's bill was only up for 1st reading. Typically, bills on 1st reading generally pass without debate, but a motion was made to hold a 1st reading public hearing on this bill, which seemed to rattle CM Barry and to enrage CM Ronnie Steine, both avid Dean supporters.
Imagine what a difficult position the Mayor's bloc on the council are in. First, they have already seen their fellow CMs vote to approve an unorthodox public hearing once in November, and tonight they faced the same prospect again with a full gallery of citizens watching over their shoulders. Second, they faced that prospect at an unusual time, four days before busy holiday when most folk are too distracted to attend a piddling council meeting. And yet, people still showed up, and with a vengeance. Third, if they kept appearing resistant to allowing public hearings on bills that directly affect citizens they risked looking like despotic straw bosses. As one person put it on Twitter: "What decent CM votes AGAINST public hearings?"
Fairgrounds supporters in the gallery made it clear that they wanted a public hearing in a televised council meeting rather in a low-visibility, tightly controlled, and unevenly stacked sub-committee meeting on January 10. When all was said and done, that is exactly what they were able to get. Megan Barry put up a half-hearted protest about there being some problems with publicizing the 10th and then cancelling, but in the end the council voted to hold the 2nd reading and public hearing of the Mayor's latest bill as well as Duane Dominy's previously deferred "Save the Fairgrounds" bill during the regular January 18 regular council meeting.
This is how it should have been in the first place. Controversial capital development proposals to radically alter historic properties should be considered free and clear from heavy travel holidays and they should happen with the widest possible public exposure and transparency rather than controlled from inside in committee meetings. This seemed to me to be a clear win for race enthusiasts, state fair preservationists, Expo small businesses, and local neighbors who support any of those. It was also a win for those of us who believe that community development ought not be dictated from the top down.