By Noah Dawson
Amarillo’s City Council has made yet another move which effectively sabotages public comments. This week, with Elaine Hays presiding over the public comment meeting (Mayor Ginger Nelson was not present), a new policy was unveiled: Members of the council will no longer answer fact-based questions as they come up. Instead, Hays asked that citizens continue speaking, and said that questions will be answered after the speaker is finished. At first glance, this change is a minor one. In fact, it’s already been spun as a positive one. Hays, speaking before the start of public comment, said “I would encourage you to use your three minutes fully and not expect a stop for questions.”
In my opinion, this is not a move to help citizens better utilize their time speaking, it’s yet another schism created dividing the council from we the people. In the past, members of the council have publicly lamented about the awkwardness caused by the Texas Open Meetings Act limiting their ability to have a back-and-forth discussion with citizens, unless it directly pertained to the narrow scope allowed under the act. However, what little room they did have for discussion with the people has now been removed, and this time, it was a move which was entirely in their hands.
Though the exact details as to behind when, where, and why they came up with this new policy are not clear, the effects of implementing it are. During the meeting this week, several citizens had prepared remarks which hinged on the ability of the council to provide some basic facts. This did not prompt a better use of time, as it instead led to more awkward pauses and disjointed communication. After months of moving meeting times around, advertising the meeting times in misleading ways, arbitrarily enforcing legally questionable rules of decorum, and ceasing to broadcast the meetings, this is yet another move that the council has made inhibiting their connection to the people. Not only is this move bad, but it prevents the council from doing their job, which, according to the city’s organizational chart, is to provide a connection between the people of the city and their government.
This failure of leadership is yet another reason we need to step up and elect a new council this May.