By Noah Dawson
On many occasions, the Amarillo City Council has seemed to ignore any responsibility it has to represent the diversity of opinions held within the city. With almost constant unanimous decisions, the council seems unwilling to represent we the people. Of course, by this point there is little surprise that the council doesn’t fix the issues brought up by citizens each week, but the fact that no single council member even pretends to stand up to represent such people is a testament to the way our council handles business. In the few cases our council does act, they make problems worse instead of better, exemplified by the mayor’s remarks about the notorious clapping ban and the decision to change the way public comment meetings are advertised rather than fixing the meetings to fit the often inflexible schedules of constituents. It’s not just the people who show up to meetings that the council ignores either. Even when the Amarillo Pioneer found this summer that the council has a approval rate of only 10% (half of what Gallup found Congress’s approval rating to be at the same time), the council has not reversed course. They have embarrassed Amarillo on a state and national level numerous times, but they still have not reversed course.
Now, what I’m about to write, I don’t want to be true, but it seems there is only one plausible explanation for all of this. Our council simply does not care. From their point of view, it simply does not matter. It’s not that they don’t care about representation, it’s that their philosophical view of what representation means is fundamentally different from the one the I’ve outlined in previous speeches and columns. It feels like the council feels it is their duty to simply do what they believe is right, since they were entrusted by the voters to represent the city and at the last election. They feel that success is measured by however they conduct their business, not by how well the city does.
There is honestly nothing about this that is inherently bad. As long as the people know what to expect from representatives when they vote, and as long as the elected representatives don’t stray from the values they campaigned on, they are representing the people. It’s not a continuous representation, and people’s views and values change between elections. Still, it is better than nothing.
Even by this standard, though, this council has failed. Mayor Nelson campaigned on a six part platform. It feels, at least to me, that she has failed to deliver on each of those points. Though this council campaigned on “changing the tone,” wanting to serve the people better than previous councils, our current council has, as Claudette Smith said during public comment this week, made previous councils “look like angels.” How did this happen?
This council has no guiding principles, at least none that I can identify. If a politician will be fiscally conservative, a voter can compare if that guiding principle matches their own, and decide whether or not to vote for such a politician. If a politician will uphold the liberty of the people, a voter can compare if that guiding principle matches their own, and decide whether or not to vote for such a politician. That’s, to go on a bit of a tangent, why bland moderates often fail. If they don’t know what principles they stand for, they don’t know who they represent.
They ask people to clap minutes before arresting people for doing the same. They refer to the open meetings act when avoiding dialogue with citizens, but skirt around the act when it pleases them. They talk about how the council will be more accessible if the move meeting times, then fail to show up once the meeting times are moved. They pride themselves on communication, but stonewall open records requests and refuse to record public comment meetings. They champion the fact that students were required to attend the State of the City event, but moved regular meetings to a time of day when students cannot attend. These are just a small sampling of one thing I’ve learned about our council: Their future actions can in no way be determined by any principle or precedent set forward in past words and actions.
One way or another, our council needs to find a way to represent we the people. They either need to start listening to our concerns, or at the very least stick to the stated principles which got them elected. If they can’t do that, they aren’t just doing a bad job, they aren’t doing their job.