It is a look all too familiar that I have encountered over the last several years in our local city council meetings.
Some may call it “deer in headlights.” Others may simply call it a dead gaze. But I call it a disrespect to taxpayers, voters and citizens.
The steady and intent look given by our elected officials towards citizens who address them during a public forum is a slap in face to those same citizens who vote and pay taxes in our community.
It is absolutely absurd and baffling to me that citizens are not allowed in engagement with our Board of Mayor and Aldermen during the Public Comment section of the board meeting agenda. Citizens who sign up to speak during the public forum of the meeting are allowed three minutes to speak. But they are not allowed to ask questions nor is the board allowed to answer or even respond to the citizen.
I don’t have an issue with the time constraint. Otherwise, the meeting could be even more lengthy than it already is – and city meetings usually last much longer these days.
But the idea that elected officials cannot respond to questions from the people they are being paid to serve is ridiculous. Granted, citizens are told that our city leaders “will keep in touch” with them. I don’t think that’s good enough. Citizens deserve an opportunity to question elected officials.
This is a policy introduced by Mayor Diane Delaware upon her first entrance into city government. Under previous administrations, the city council was able to engage with its people who came forward with both praise and criticism.
The Yazoo County Board of Supervisors regularly interacts with residents during their board meetings. Some of those residents have complaints and concerns. Supervisors may not always like getting tough questions, but I’ve never seen one of them decline to answer questions.
And I have covered one-horse town boards in the middle of the Delta who also recognized the practice of communicating with concerned citizens.
This newspaper has been told it is a procedure that is followed in many other municipalities, but I don’t care what other communities are doing or have done. I care and follow what happens in Yazoo.
When other city board members chose to engage with citizens who attend the public forum of the city council meeting, that engagement is cut off, ended. That engagement is concluded with an explanation of how the city council does not participate in the public comment section of the agenda.
The decision by elected officials to offer no explanation, answer or response to the public in an open meeting can lead to trust issues and confidence with leadership. To me, it also disrespects the public’s right to be informed. The public shouldn’t have to wait on a separate phone call or feel like they can’t address the board as a whole with successful results.
I have had many citizens tell me that they choose not to appear before the city council because they know the board will not communicate with them. They consider it a waste of time. They don’t want a phone call from city hall. They want a response from the board as a whole.
The people of Yazoo City should not have to wait for a delayed answer, a private meeting or another phone call from our elected officials. They should be able to get answers or some sort of response during a public meeting.
I am not sure how it can be resolved. Maybe the city council should make a motion to allow public engagement. But if that is possible, it still takes three votes to implement that procedure.
I find it insane how doors and forums were open when it came for elections. When a vote was needed, answers and promises were provided. Now that those elected seats have warm bodies, those open lines of communication, I assume, are not as important. Well…maybe not important it’s time to hit the voting polls again.
I’m not suggesting that board members should be expected to have solutions to every single problem they are confronted with during meetings. But a simple “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I’m going to look into it,” would be better than no response at all.
Agenda requests are one of the options Yazooans have if they would like open engagement or action from the city council. Those take time and signatures to even be “considered” for placement on the agenda.
If elected officials are afraid to face questions from the people they serve, they need to find another line of work. Governing isn’t always easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. Citizens of Yazoo City should remember that if our city leaders continue this policy.
And when those same politicians ask for your vote again, give them three minutes to make their pitch and then tell them you will get back with them.