I am enlightened but dismayed after having attended a Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday. It was my first since returning to Columbus, my hometown. I had heard and read in the newspaper about rowdy and disruptive meetings and the concern that at times no progress could be made because of it, even on important issues. So I decided to attend a meeting to see for myself; they are open to the public.
Yesterday, instead of an enlightened presentation and intellectual debate on the various possibilities for the re-districting of Lowndes County to comply with the requirements set by the 2010 census, what I witnessed were ultimatums being shouted, districts being referred to as possessions (my/your) as if they were owned by a supervisor and not the people within the district.
Moreover, the negative name-calling on the part of one member — who had been asked about a proposal that he himself made without consulting either other Board members or the company engaged by the Board to make an accurate statistical analysis of the county and present alternative recommendations — brought everything to a standstill. In stopping the governing process that is needed to formulate this re-districting requirement for our county in a timely manner, there is a real probability of a waste of taxpayer dollars if the cut-off date is not met.
I fully appreciate the duty and right for all supervisors to represent their district and to present a plan that they would like to see implemented in the best interest of the residents in their district (not just themselves personally) and have that plan taken up for official consideration by the Board. However, I do not appreciate the actions of elected officials who let their anger intrude on the governing process by slandering other members in the meeting, but that is what I witnessed yesterday.
In other communities where I have resided and been civilly active this did not happen. Such behavior mystifies me. Elsewhere, such participants would have been invited to leave the room and give up their right to attend that meeting. Other governing bodies are able to restrict such behavior because they have instituted a set of rules of order and behavior. Among these rules is the requirement for members to address each other respectfully and present intellectual arguments, not simply give and vent to emotional outbursts.
After what I witnessed yesterday, I no longer wonder why Columbus has the same population (app 25,000) that it had back in 1955 when I left — I returned in 2006. The behavior that I saw and heard undermines any hope of thoughtful debate and inhibits the democratic governing progress.
Maybe the Board of Supervisors should seriously consider the adoption of a set of rules of conduct for the behavior of its members. The right to expel anyone for misbehavior and disruptive emotional outbursts would help to assure decency and order during meetings. Please keep in mind that both houses of Congress at both national and state levels follow such rules. Other counties where I have resided also have rules of order and defined expulsion rights for supervisor level positions.
I urge my fellow community members to please go and see for themselves what is going on and then get out and vote in the up coming elections. We must elect public service candidates who have the ability to negotiate intelligently on our behalf, not on behalf of themselves personally.
Their individual behavior in the long run affects our property values and the quality of life in our entire community.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.