July 23, 2013 10:00:06 AM
In our system of government, we sometimes are urged to remember that each citizen has a civic responsibility. We are also reminded that people generally get the kind of government they deserve.
Most often, these reminders are confined to the election season as we choose our leaders on the national, state and local level.
Yet going to the polls should not be considered the beginning and end of our roles in the process.
Tonight in both Columbus and Starkville, there will be another opportunity for regular citizens to participate in their city governments.
The Columbus City Council meets at 5 at the Municipal Complex while the Starkville Board of Aldermen convene at 5:30 at City Hall. Both are regularly-scheduled monthly meetings. As a rule, these meetings are sparsely attended.
We sincerely hope that is not the case tonight.
As meetings go, these are an important ones, not just because of the topics that will be discussed but because of the message it sends to both the council and the board of aldermen. In recent weeks, both the councilmen and aldermen have sought to exclude citizens from participating in their own government.
In both cases, the elected officials have acted in such a way as to minimize any public discussion of important matters.
In Columbus, the council voted 4-2 at its July 2 meeting to create a new position in city government -- project manager -- and hire a firm called J5 Broaddus, which is run by mayor Robert Smith's campaign manager, Jabari Edwards. Not only did the council vote to create a new position without any meaningful discussion on the need for a new position or what that position would cost, it also refused to open up the position to other applicants. Clearly, this was a thinly-veiled act of political patronage. The item was added to the agenda at the last possible moment, insuring that citizens would not have a chance to consider the wisdom of the move or make their opinions known before the vote was taken.
The 11th-hour addition of the proposal and its quick passage -- with very little discussion among the councilmen and zero input from residents -- provides a disturbing insight into how this council intends to operate.
Tonight, citizens have a chance to speak in another way by filling the municipal complex. Come early. Bring a friend. Show by your presence that the council is accountable to the people.
A half-empty room will only embolden the council to cut back-room deals and ignore the will of the people with impunity.
In Starkville, a similar outrage unfolded in the aldermen's July 2 meeting when it voted 5-2 to terminate its chief administrative officer, Lynn Spruill, without discussion of any kind. Not only did the aldermen refuse to allow discussion in open session, it wouldn't even permit discussion in executive session. Spruill, whose competence and reputation has been well established, deserved better and mayor Parker Wiseman was justified in his veto of the aldermen's decision. Tonight, the aldermen are expected to vote to override that veto.
The people have a right to know why the board voted to dismiss Spruill from so important a position in the city's government and why the aldermen allowed no discussion on the subject.
A group of citizens who are not inclined to have their voices ignored will meet at 5 p.m. on the steps of City Hall to voice their support of Spruill and opposition to the aldermen's deceptive conduct.
No matter your position on these issues -- whether you agree with the decisions of the council and aldermen or not -- you have a right to send a clear message that the citizens cannot be denied their role in city government.
The question is really simple: Is this how you want your city government to operate?
Your presence or absence from tonight's meeting will be your answer.
1. Our View: Turnage leads assault on public's right to open government DISPATCH EDITORIALS
2. Lynn Spruill: The march LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Ask Rufus: A tale of two boxers in Columbus LOCAL COLUMNS
4. Voice of the people: Jeff Turnage LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (VOICE@CDISPATCH.COM)
5. Voice of the people: Jimmy Bonner LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (VOICE@CDISPATCH.COM)