It’s Wrong to Limit Public Input to the Council

Every week, citizens have the opportunity to publicly address the elected body of this city. Five speakers can speak at the beginning of our Wednesday Council meetings, and an unlimited number can speak at the end of the day.

Last week, I learned from a Dallas Morning News article that “someone” at City Hall had made the decision to shut off our weekly televised council meeting before the afternoon speakers were heard. I have to say, I really don’t like having to read about changes like this in the newspaper instead of hearing about them first-hand at City Hall, but I digress.

Actually, I don’t digress. This is the heart of the problem: Unilateral decisions made without consulting the council or having an open dialog with citizens. When the Mayor wanted to seriously limit the ability of citizens to address the council at our weekly meetings, and slipped this procedural change onto our voting agenda with no briefing, I objected and pulled the item from the agenda. Councilmembers Hill and Rasansky also objected. The matter seemed to have dropped, until I learned (thanks to Dave Levinthal) that “someone” had made the decision not to televise the afternoon speakers.

Don’t get me wrong. About six of the afternoon speakers are regulars who come to City Hall week after week with a particular bone to pick, adding little to the political discourse. Sometimes they are incoherent, sometimes they’re loud, sometimes they’re rude and almost abusive. I certainly don’t like most of what I hear from them — it’s not constructive or productive. But it’s not about whether I “like” a citizen’s commentary. Our job is to listen to the good remarks, the bad remarks, the compliments, the diatribes, the pleas, the censures. Yes, the occasional invective will be thrown in, and we’ll deal with it then, but to try to either limit citizen input or keep them from being heard during a regular meeting broadcast is not acceptable. I asked who was responsible for making this unilateral decision, and the Mayor fessed up. But you see, it’s not his decision, it’s the Council’s decision, and it should be an open discussion. We’re going to discuss this issue in January.

We’re hired by the people of this city to work for them. Part of that job entails listening to them, even when we don’t want to, even if we don’t think they have a lot to say, even when (occasionally) they don’t make a lot of sense.