BY AARON WALKER
If you come to a conversation in bad faith, any argument you make will be discounted. Council has been coming to almost every argument in bad faith lately due to a string of very questionable decisions and flip-flopping by specific councilors for no apparent reason. Councilor Derkacs characterized my public comment rather poorly, so I am going to clear things up.
There is no problem with councilors getting opinions from constituents outside of the public forum. The problem lies with those councilors listening to ONLY the comment they get from that forum. Several councilors have voted against transparency, and then wonder why people like me get upset when they justify their votes with these “phantom constituents”. I get upset because they have come to the argument in bad faith. They are ONLY listening to people within their social circles that are confirming their own internal biases. I don’t want Council to listen only to those comments provided in the public realm via e-mail or public comment, I want them to be open and transparent. If you vote against transparency, and then choose to vote with a vague, unreliable argument it is going to be called out.
Council has lost the faith of the public. Several councilors refuse to engage with those of us that actually participate in the process, so why should we believe them when they make an argument based on those “phantom constituents”? If you have the trust of the public, these arguments are less questionable. When you continually make questionable decisions, you are going to be further placed under the microscope and issues like this are going to be dissected very carefully.
Why have councilors attend the summer concerts or farmers markets to gather public input/feedback if it doesn’t matter? Why hold town halls if certain councilors are going to completely ignore that feedback? “We only heard from 0.2% of the public” is probably the worst argument for discounting those of us that take the time and effort to provide our comments publicly.
So the main question is this: “How do we fix this?” Well, that’s actually rather easy. When councilors get comments from constituents outside of the public forum, encourage them to send an e-mail or provide comments during the council meeting. This way, the entirety of the Council has access to that perspective and can make a more informed decision. I have employed this tactic while on CDAB, and it has been very useful. Saying something along the lines of “I appreciate your perspective, do you mind taking the time to send Council an e-mail describing this so that the other councilors have an opportunity to hear your perspective as well?” It acknowledges the opinion while asking them to get involved in the process. The other way to fix this is to take a lesson from the School Board. Have the e-mails received by council posted in a public location on-line, and during the meeting provide a summary of those e-mails. This removes any question about how much support or opposition was voiced for a specific topic. There is even an opportunity to allow for anonymous public comments if the person fears retaliation (business owners for example).
Several councilors have been coming to these arguments in bad faith, so their arguments are deserving of heavy criticism. The local Democratic Party has a reckoning coming up in this next Council election. It needs to face these issues now head-on and make a commitment to integrity, ACTUAL transparency, and honesty.