In your weekend column, “Be constructive …” you again rebuked the community for not attending public meetings regarding the “sales office deal.” As one of a handful who go often, I can say that city council meetings are generally routine, tedious and time consuming. Although the interaction and level of competency in the current council is the best that I have observed in over 15 years it remains a business meeting with little discussion or explanation of issues and little input from the audience.
Councilmembers often applaud citizens for coming and seem to genuinely encourage participation. To a point. Questions and concerns regarding the sales office were met with incredulity, defensiveness and even anger. Referring to the city engineer’s office, one councilmember said, “That’s what Alexander City represents today. Do y’all want that for your city? I don’t.” He was angry; I was there. Another stated that “if we ask everybody’s opinion we’ll never get anywhere.” True but we’re not all ill-informed cranks.
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t ask questions at the public presentation. I was flummoxed. I saw and heard things that didn’t seem to jive and things that seemed to close the door to further discussion. That the city “will not spend another nickel” on the old courthouse was a particular shock. The plan I heard was demolition and to haul the debris to the landfill. The landfill? Really? That kind of thinking, or lack of, makes the whole deal appear shady.
The assumption that discontented voters would jam “every inch of every pew at every council meeting” is unrealistic. The sales office issue has been presented and approved. We are moving forward. (The next big issue will be the $32.8 million needed for the county schools and the suggestion that city schools might need $63 million.)
But a lack of participation is great cause for concern. Involvement in the democratic process is what makes it work and we should be very protective of it. Our complacency and failure to do so will be the ruin of democracy. There’s no price on what that would cost.