Monday, November 17, 2008

County Budget: Hour 1

This may be one of those most well-attended local government meetings I have ever covered. The galleries on both sides of the chambers are packed full, and attendees are standing in the wings and at the back of the meeting room.
All totalled, there are at least 150 people in attendance.

"What a beautiful display of democracy we have here tonight," noted Supervisor John Hendrick, who will be chairing the operating budget deliberations.

The county supervisors, for their part, appear to be a little taken aback by the overwhelming attendance at a meeting without a public hearing for attendees to sound off. The throngs of observers are primarily fire and EMS workers lobbying for the county to fund radio upgrades mandated by the federal government, and activists in support of an amendement that would re-route funding from the Sheriff's Department to a program to support immigrants.

The firefighters' presence was no surprise to me. In fact, as I was packing up to leave the office, I heard multiple pages go out over the scanner on various jurisdictions' frequencies to encourage attendance at the meeting.

But the activists' presence was more unexpected, as it was predicated on a previously unannounced amendment to the operating budget. Supervisor Al Matano introduced it as the board's first order of business, and called it a means to "express our concern to the sheriff in a way he would hear...Nothing speaks like dollars."

Matano and several other supervisors have previously expressed displeasure with Sheriff Dave Mahoney for cooperating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement division in turning over the identifications of illegal immigrants sheriff's deputies encounter.

The motion failed on a 6-30 vote. There was then five minutes of commotion as the activists in support left the room. Several of them joined in a chant on their way out the door, prompting Hendrick to call on the Sergeant at Arms to "enforcement some order, hopefully without calling the police and certainly not the Sheriff's department."

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