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Our View: City council strikes another blow against open government




Some concepts are just hard to grasp. For example, can anyone really explain what Higgs boson is?  


Other ideas are easier to absorb. Or at least, they should be. 


It is apparent after Tuesday's city council meeting our elected leaders struggle to understand a fundamental aspect of the democratic process -- the idea of open government. 


The council voted, 4-2, Tuesday to amend its citizens input policy, placing repressive, even ridiculous, restrictions on residents' ability to address the council during its meetings. 


Under the new proposal, anyone wishing to address the council must fill out a form that explains what subject they want to address on the Wednesday before the Tuesday meeting. Citizens are only permitted to address the council three times each year. 


The council defended these changes saying that on many occasions, citizens address publicly matters that could be easily resolved by talking to a city department head privately. They also say some citizens abuse the citizens-input portion of the council meetings by addressing the board at almost every meeting, often on topics that have little or nothing to do with city government. 


We have no doubt there is some truth to these claims.  


But what the city council sees as a nuisance, we see as a fundamental part of what makes for healthy government and community -- an informed citizenry afforded every reasonable opportunity to publicly air grievances and address issues before the council. 


If a few people avail themselves of that opportunity at every council meeting, if they sometimes wander far afield from relevant issues, if they make unfair charges against the city, these should be considered a small price to pay for preserving the rights of citizens to be involved in how their city is governed.  


The city's new policy is unnecessary. It is unfair and it is the polar opposite on what our city leaders should be trying achieve. At a time when the city should be actively encouraging citizens to get involved, to care, to invest itself in the city, the council is instead contributing to an atmosphere of apathy, alienation and suspicion that seriously undermines every effort to move Columbus forward. 


It defies reason for the council to actively pursue ways to discourage citizens from playing their role in our government. 


Asking citizens to sign up six days before the council meeting and state what subjects they want to address are requirements that the city council itself doesn't always follow. We have often seen the council add items to the agenda just before the meeting starts. In one notorious case -- a proposal to give council members a pay raise -- the agenda item was added after the council meeting was already in progress.  


Also, because the city doesn't release its agenda until the Thursday before the meeting, citizens will have no idea what topics the council will discuss until after the deadline for signing up to address the council.  


Citizens' right to actively participate in their government is a fundamental part of what distinguishes our system of government from many oppressive regimes around the world. We should cherish and protect these rights. 


That is a concept Bill Gavin, Charlie Box, Kabir Karriem and Joseph Mickens ­ -- the four who voted for the change in policy -- seem incapable or unwilling to embrace. 


Shame on them. Their actions have hurt the city. 


It is a policy that should be overturned immediately. A since apology should accompany that move, too.



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