Citizen comment is good, but let’s be reasonable

AMARILLO, Texas — I ran into a longtime acquaintance tonight at Amarillo’s Civic Center auditorium. He is a member of the City Hall legal team and, quite naturally, our discussion turned to the recent kerfuffle at City Hall over citizen comment time in front of the City Council.

As I understand, a few soreheads in Amarillo are mad at the city administration and the council because of rules being placed on the time and substance of citizens’ comments during council meetings.

My friend said he believes Mayor Ginger Nelson and City Manager Jared Miller are placing reasonable restrictions on the time and tenor of the comments. I understand that many of the comments have gotten intensely personal. They have accused the council of violating the Texas Open Meetings Law and of keeping secrets from the public.

Well, I am not close enough to the situation to make a serious judgment on the complaints. Although I do believe governing bodies have the inherent responsibility to conduct their public meetings with decorum and dignity; if residents become too nasty and personal in their comments, they do not need to be heard.

I reminded my friend of what a former local county judge used to do. Randall County Judge Ted Wood — who took office when I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 — allowed county residents unlimited time to comment to the Commissioners Court. Wood’s view was that since the commissioners work for them, the residents are the “boss.” Commissioners, according to Wood, were obligated to give them an open forum to bitch and moan, rant and rail to their hearts’ content.

My friend said, quite correctly, that was an unreasonable concession to the public. Residents who blather on and on take up too much valuable time from the elected officials, from the public staff and from other residents who come to have their own voices heard.

The soreheads who gripe continually at City Hall have filed suit against the city. I don’t know the merits of their action, so I won’t comment. I’ll just offer this bit of opinion: The city, based on what I’ve read from afar, has acted reasonably in trying to maintain a level of dignity at City Council meetings.

The soreheads need to settle down.

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