There’s a time and a place to air concerns about every purpose under heaven. The trick is finding the right one.
Unfortunately, a group of citizens failed to do so when they interrupted and virtually hijacked a meeting that was supposed to give residents a chance to provide input on Gardner’s 2016 budget. While protesting to gain attention may be in style – think Occupy Wall Street and the Ferguson protestors who closed Interstate 70 – disruption also serves to disenfranchise and inconvenience others.
That’s what happened at the beginning of the meeting, which turned into a grievance-hearing by a small contingent of residents.
This garrulous group expressed outrage that members of city council didn’t attend. Little did they know, Mayor Chris Morrow had sent the council an email asking that they stay home.
“In my opinion, if any of us were to attend tonight it may inhibit discussion by some, and inflame the rhetoric of others. So, let’s please allow the citizens we serve to have their meeting tonight without distractions,” Morrow wrote in an email to council members.
The letter was the second time in recent memory that council members wanted to attend a citizen event and were asked to stay away. The first time was at residents’ meeting and at the request of residents themselves.
Last fall, many of the same citizens upset about the budget forum hosted a citizen meeting to discuss the city’s capital improvement plan, or CIP. Council members asked to attend the residents’ meeting but were refused for similar reasons as the ones Morrow mentioned in his email about the budget forum.
Speaking of that CIP, the outraged forum attendees were upset that a CIP hadn’t yet been approved and that the budget forum was mediated by consultants. They also expressed their outrage that the forum was to address the 2016 budget instead of the 2015 budget. For what it’s worth, by state statute, municipal budgets must be adopted, approved and sent to the state no later than Aug. 25 each year. Though they can be amended, debating the merits of the 2015 budget three weeks into the year is too late.
While we can understand the frustration of budgets past, city officials were making an attempt to reach out to citizens much earlier for the future budget.
They were brutally rebuffed for their efforts, and that’s a shame.
It was a baffling and inconsiderate display. Though we don’t necessarily disagree with the list of grievances, we were appalled at the lack of consideration for other residents in attendance at the budget forum.
When the meeting began at approximately 6 p.m., there were about 25 members of the public in attendance. An hour later, about half remained. The others left – likely recognizing they weren’t going to get a chance to offer their thoughts on budgetary policy.
The meeting had dissolved into an argument over process. The primary problem was the residents vaunting verbal pitchforks were taking aim at the wrong people. It was also the wrong time.
We felt sorry for the people who maybe can’t attend every city function or meeting, but attended the budget session with the hopes of having their thoughts heard. The meeting was commandeered, and those people who left early were disenfranchised. They couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Neither could the consultants.
The people who seized the budget forum mimicked the Ferguson, Mo., protesters lying in the streets blocking regular citizens from going to work. Their efforts served only to draw attention to themselves. Neither group advanced its cause, and others were caught in the cross fire.
Eventually Morrow showed up at city hall imploring the restless group to let the process take place. Sadly, that offended some, who chose to leave the forum rather than be “lectured.”
It’s unfortunate a “lecture” is necessary; adults should act with proper decorum and set an example for any youth who were in attendance.