This article might earn me another scolding from the spouse of a local elected official, but I don't care.
On Tuesday night, the Amarillo City Council decided to back off of its proposal for 7am weekly meetings. Instead, the City Council chose to move its meetings to noon, after Councilmember Eddy Sauer and others said the meetings would not be "sustainable" for their business interests.
It appears that the original push for the 7am time change, from comments made in work sessions, was led by city manager Jared Miller and Mayor Ginger Nelson. The move was supposedly proposed to accommodate "working parents," while opponents said the move was just a way of the City Council silencing citizens.
I have a few quick observations. First, if the City Council's real intention was to accommodate "working parents," then how will a noon start time help achieve that goal? Also, why did the other members of the City Council wait two weeks to voice business concerns on the time change? That seems like something which should have come up when the idea was originally floated. In my eyes, it appears to be just an easy way for those members of the City Council to try to avoid being roped into the controversy surrounding this horrible idea.
But, beyond that point, it was interesting to watch the City Council's approaches to dealing with the public. Eddy Sauer called for holding fewer meetings. Howard Smith called for breaking the meeting into halves, with the public encouraged to speak in the evening.
Only one Councilmember seemed to have an approach which was about the citizens. Councilwoman Freda Powell, when asked her thoughts, said she wants to retain the ability of the public to speak at meetings, regardless of however it inconveniences the Council.
"Although [public comment] is challenging on some days, that's what I signed up for when I ran," Powell said.
Excellent point, Councilwoman.
When this City Council ran for office in 2017, each of these members ran on "changing the tone." Since that time, someone was arrested for clapping in a meeting, Mayor Ginger Nelson has skipped out on meetings where controversy has been expected and has even labeled public comment speakers with mocking nicknames like "frequent flyers."
This City Council has never been interested in serving the public. No number of scoldings from the spouses of elected officials toward community activists and journalists will ever change this fact.
Councilmembers have shown a complete unwillingness to work with the public. Often times, the public has been treated like a nuisance by the City Council. Council may have some reason for trying to make the change, but you will never convince me that the City Council's reason for seeking a meeting time change was to encourage the public to attend.
Last night, Amarillo resident Rusty Tomlinson taped his mouth shut at public comment to illustrate his view that the City Council is trying to shut down public comment. While Mayor Nelson and Councilmembers seemed to ignore Tomlinson, this action does show symbolism of what the citizens of Amarillo feel the interaction between government and the public has been over the past year.
Amarillo deserves better.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief