Friday, September 26, 2008

Let the People Speak and Listen to Them

Dr. Malcolm Cleaveland, UA Professor Emeritus of Geosciences, made a 400-miles round trip to testify yesterday before the Governor's Commission on Global Warming about SWEPCO's proposed coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County. You would think that a government body established by statute would be interested in hearing the opinion of an expert witness on the topic. Acording to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Professor Cleaveland "opposed the plant in a vigorous presentation" until State Representative Kathy Webb, Chair of the Commission, cut him off and told him to sit down when he passed his two-minute time limit. Two minutes. Is it any wonder that so few Arkansas citizens invest the time and effort to testify on important public policy issues in Little Rock?

Here in Fayetteville, where the citizens have informed opinions and wish to actively engage pubic issues that affect their lives and the future of our community, they are often ignored or treated with contempt by arrogant elected officials who don't want to hear their views. School Board President Steve Percival has banned one district patron critical of Bobbynu from ever speaking at a school board meeting, and he often limits what concerned citizens can discuss about relevant topics before the board.

Mayor Dan Coody ("Going, Going, Gone"), does not care much for citizen opinion and input, either. He might allow those who agree with him to go on forever, but he frequently interrupts speakers who question his proposals and cuts them off. His recent move to abolish the public issue forums initiated by Aldermen and citizens on the public's Government Channel reflects this disturbing attitude, and now Telecommunication Board Chair Shelli Bell, who did the administration's dirty work, wants to limit the public comments of citizens who disagree with that decision.

Criticism of [wo]men and measures is essential for an effective representative government, and true public servants will welcome honest differences. Being denied the opportunity to speak on public issues before government bodies leaves the citizens of Fayetteville only one effective alternative for changing things -- voting for new leadership for our city government and on the school board.

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