How an elected official chooses to conduct himself or herself among their constituents should speak volumes to those watching.
This week, there was an interesting exchange during the public comment portion of the Amarillo City Council's regular meeting. The exchange occurred between Mayor Ginger Nelson, the Amarillo city attorney, and a person who is currently in litigation with the City. Essentially, the exchange boiled down to Nelson stating that the City Councilmembers are not allowed to have contact with this person, due to City policies and regulations.
I completely understand this policy. What I don't understand is what Nelson's excuse might be for avoiding the rest of the public.
It has been clear during Mayor Nelson's tenure that she, and certain members of the City Council, seem to avoid engaging with the public. It is truly shameful, as Nelson seems to skip meetings where fireworks are expected, or, in some cases during her tenure, public comment has been completely cancelled if disagreement is expected.
This is an absolutely repulsive policy by this City Council. Instead of "changing the tone" and promoting community engagement, like certain members of this City Council promised on the campaign trail, the public has been essentially shut out of City Hall. Average citizens are even treated like criminals in some cases at City Hall. This is not necessarily the fault of this City Council, but rather a failure of the whole identity of government.
While I do not agree with these members on most issues, I will say that Councilmember Elaine Hays has been the most open member of the City Council and she should receive major credit for this. Councilmember Howard Smith has also attempted to be somewhat open.
Other Councilmembers have never expressed a real sense of willingness to engage with the community, however, and that is truly concerning.
Remember, in Federalist 51, James Madison stated, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." This is an extremely important and influential statement. However, Madison also noted that government was to be framed in a way that obliges it to control itself. Government will never hold itself accountable, which leaves the people as the safeguard on the power of government. If government attempts to shut out the people, it is essentially attempting to force out the only safeguard against its power. This can lead to dangerous consequences.
Amarilloans must be afforded the ability to speak directly to City Councilmembers, as a way of acquiring education on City services, and as a way of expressing disapproval and holding government accountable. If citizens are not afforded this ability, it might be time for voters to reconsider how government operates in Amarillo.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief