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Birney Imes: Times that try men's (and women's) souls


Birney Imes



"A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody." 


--Thomas Paine  




In case you missed it ... 


This past week our city council did something utterly stupid and repressive. It placed onerous restrictions on its public-input policy. Before Tuesday evening any citizen who wished to address the council on any topic simply had to show up and put his name on the list to speak.  


Not that folks were lining up to address this august body, but, if on the day of a meeting a citizen decided he wanted to voice concerns about tree pruning or storm-drain covers, he could do so with little fanfare. 


Not any more. The new rule requires you to sign up the week before -- even before the meeting agenda is released -- and you can only address the council three times in a year. And if that's not enough, the topic you wish to speak about has to be approved. 


Someone should remind these guys about life in the former Soviet Union.  


Word is the council passed the policy to limit certain citizens, who speak regularly on all manner of topics, some relevant some not. 


We at The Dispatch had a similar problem with our online commenters, some of whom used our website to bicker with each other on off-topic subjects. We contacted the commenters in question, asking them to keep it relevant; most have complied. 


Rather than change the law to deal with a few miscreants, would it not be better to reach out to them individually and appeal to their better nature? It might work. It might not. Having to endure trivial and irrelevant oratory is part of the political process. 


Mississippi University for Women President Jim Borsig, when he first arrived at The W, was fond of saying he wasn't afraid to have "a messy conversation." 


Effective governance requires messy conversations. There's no way around it. And, I believe they lead to better solutions. 


Two meetings ago Spencer Smith questioned the council about its plans to issue $5 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements. Here was a thoughtful young man, a homeowner and a taxpayer, bringing legitimate questions before the council. If only we could have more of that. 


Lately people have been especially complimentary of the paper's coverage of the council and the Columbus school board. While I appreciate the sentiment, I can't help feeling uneasy -- and sometimes I say as much -- that our coverage is not solving the problem, only shinning light on it. Too many think if the newspaper is on to something, it's taken care of, that it somehow absolves them from getting involved, i.e. going to a public meeting, phoning an elected official or board member or even writing a letter to the editor. 


That's not how it works. 


Thomas Paine (who even by today's standards would be considered a hell raiser) urged colonists in his incendiary pamphlet "Common Sense" to seek independence from England. But it took action. Had the Colonists not acted on their beliefs, we'd still be speaking the King's English. 


Dr. Joe Boggess wrote a letter to the editor this past week questioning the city's four-day work week. He raises a good point: Does this policy best serve the taxpayer? What if he wants to have a messy conversation about it? 


First he has to get approval from the people he intends to challenge, who for now want to hide behind this silly policy. Let's hope they see fit to reconsider. 



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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