as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Saturday, March 12, 2016
By TOM HENRY
After watching numerous Jerry Springeresque public meetings recently regarding both the golf course and the budget cuts (i.e. fire department and public works layoffs) and especially in light of the upcoming “public forum” to be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 17 in the Blytheville High School Auditorium, I felt that it would be in order for me to explain a little about how public discourse can arrive at maximum benefit while protecting the town hall character.
One of the most glorious things about living in America is the fact that “we the people” have the right to express our opinions, question our leaders and attend open public meetings of our government.
If we ever stop attending public meetings and holding our elected officials accountable, then we are most certainly done for.
However, despite what some might think, it isn’t “the squeaky wheel that gets the grease,” but rather the wheel with the most votes.
I have watched numerous meetings and I have listened to the same members of our community saying the exact some canned talking points over and over and over and over and over.
To the point that it is beginning to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Waa waa wah, wah, whah wah wah wah wahhh.”
Listen, it is not the loudest voice that gets the prize. It’s not the most stubborn voice that gets their way. It certainly isn’t the most obnoxious! But it is the one that has the most voting friends agreeing with you.
I have seen citizens arrive in meetings and challenge the councilmen, speaking with a dripping sarcasm, blatant disrespect and all too often an embarrassing level of uniformed preparation. I have witnessed multiple committee chairmen fail to maintain order in the room out of fear of appearing unsympathetic.
Citizens, I really don’t care about how much passion you have. I care about the logic of your argument. Honestly, your argument holds no water if you don’t know the facts. Do your homework, craft a pithy, intelligent argument, bring your friends and win the argument based upon evidence not emotion!
If you can’t do that, then stay home. Our elected officials are elected (hired) to represent us, but they are not the only ones that have responsibilities in our government.
I can’t count the number of times that I have heard someone get downright rude and interrupt the meeting to interject their unelected opinion (not during the public forum portion of a meeting though). Almost always, those interjections are based upon rumor and are factually incorrect. If you wouldn’t stand up in a church or in a courtroom and just interject your opinion on something, then don’t do it during a government meeting.
There is a time at the end of those meetings reserved to give your opinions. Now having said that, I recognize the growing anguish and frustration that a lot of people have. They simply don’t trust their city government (and that is not without merit). However, there is a correct way of doing things and acting like a wrestler calling out his opponents isn’t it.
Lastly, I want to point out that governing is ugly business…trust me I see it. Everybody says we have waste and we need to cut spending. The problem is that far too many entitled citizens are screaming “but don’t cut my thing…cut his/her thing.”
Love me or hate me, show me the money. Argue using facts and figures not passion and prejudice.
When we have this public forum, and believe me I’ll be there, let’s all be adults and stick with the facts and stop acting like an audience at a taping of Springer.