I am truly concerned about a new rule for meetings of the Amarillo City Council.
On Tuesday night, city manager Jared Miller unveiled a brand new slide on the City Council's PowerPoint presentation, which is supposedly aimed at curbing "personal attacks." Specifically, the rule asks for residents to watch their behavior and avoid making "personal" or "slanderous" remarks during the public comment portion of the meeting. Those who do not follow the rule, according to the information presented Tuesday, will be barred from "further audience" before the City Council.
There are a few things that concern me about this rule. First, who will decide when a speaker crosses the proverbial line?
Secondly, often times addressing Councilmembers personally is a valid thing to do, as many speakers at public comment ask specific members for justification on their votes.
Finally, if someone is barred from "further audience," how long does the ban last? Is it a lifetime ban? Is it for six months? Is it just for that day? The Pioneer has reached out for clarification, but has still not heard back from City Hall.
Whenever I hear a law enacted that reads like this one, my skin crawls. We have seen many times how those in power will exploit laws on the books to punish political opponents. Will this rule be used to punish political opponents?
Earlier this year, Mayor Ginger Nelson forced residents to stop recording during a public meeting, which opponents alleged was a violation of state law. Shortly after, a person was arrested during a meeting after clapping during public comment.
If we assign the authority to enforce this rule to the presiding officer of the body, it could create some major issues. In the eyes of this writer, the Mayor was wrong in her actions in both of these scenarios. But, Mayor Nelson is not the only mayor in recent memory who has treated political opponents poorly during Council meetings.
To quote President James Madison, "The essence of Government is power; and power lodged as it must be, in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse." To assign new powers to the presiding officer of the body, especially powers that are not clearly defined, is an inherently dangerous concept.
I would suggest that the Amarillo City Council scrap this ridiculous, unnecessary rule. The people of Amarillo deserve to have more freedoms to speak freely in front of government, and this rule is not the way to accomplish that goal.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief