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Our view: Government of and for the people




In this space yesterday, on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, we noted the enduring quality of Lincoln's words spoken on that November day. Looking to the future, the president said, "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." 


On Tuesday evening, the governing bodies of Columbus and Starkville held their regular meetings and in many respects the ideal of government "of the people, for the people and by the people" was sorely tested by ill-advised proposals that, were they enacted, would have diminished the peoples' rightful role in government. 


One has to wonder if the spirit of Lincoln intervened on those attempts to mute the voices of regular citizens. 


At any rate, we are relieved to note that those proposals were ultimately rejected.  


Both proposals involved something that the people of Lincoln's day could never have conceived -- social media. 


In Columbus, the city council considered a social media policy that, among other things, restricted city employees from talking to the media without first gaining permission from Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell or Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, a move that would have greatly compromised media access to employees and, as a result, denied citizens relevant information that is most broadly disseminated through the media. Time and time again, it seems as though city officials fail to understand that media's role in keeping the public informed. When access is denied to the media, it is also denied to the citizens who rely on the media for the information they are entitled to have. 


Fortunately, that clause was taken out of the proposal before it was approved.  


In Starkville, the assault on the right of the people to actively participate in their city government was far more egregious. 


A proposal by Alderman Roy A. Perkins attempted to put an end to citizens' participation through the use of social media, most specifically through Twitter and Facebook posts that allowed citizens to provide live commentary during board meetings. 


Under the flimsy guise of suggesting that cellphones were a distraction, Perkins' proposal would have required residents to leave their cellphones outside the board room during meetings. That would have nipped those live tweets and Facebooks posts in the bud.  


The proposal failed by a 4-3 vote and an amended proposal which stipulated only that cellphones must be put on silent was passed unanimously. 


The second proposal was, of course, little more than an effort by the aldermen to save face. As one resident noted during the meeting's public comment period, no ordinance is required to solve the problem. All that is really required is for the mayor to ask people to put their cellphones on silent at the start of each meeting.  


In Starkville, aldermen meetings are well attended and residents, through the use of social media, are taking an active interest in city government. Why some members of the board of aldermen feel threatened by that is a question that speaks volumes. 


In Columbus, city council meetings are poorly attended; it appears residents have lost confidence in the city's administration and feel disenfranchised from the process. Is it any wonder? 


In both cases, the elected leaders should take a hard look at themselves and their attitude toward the citizens. 


These proposals should never have had to be amended, because they never should have been made in the first place. 


City leaders should ask themselves if, when it comes right down to it, do they really embrace the ideal of government of the people, for the people and by the people?



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