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Davenport City Council Censors Public Input PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 16 January 2001 18:00
I spoke too soon!!! In a recent editorial (Reader issue #304, January 3, 2001), I lauded Davenport’s City Council for continuing the policy of airing council meetings on public television. However, during its annual goal-setting sessions, which took place last Sunday and Monday, January 14 and 15, this same council voted 8-2 in favor of censoring the last portion of their meetings, commonly referred to as “Public with Business (PWB),” by purposely withholding it from an ever-growing viewership. (Aldermen Hean and Ambrose voted against the measure. Sadly, Mayor Yerington supports it.)

Why would elected officials implement such a heinous measure? Over the past year, the council has had to endure the harsh and rigorous criticism of certain members of the community, especially one citizen, Niky Bowles, over the issue of zoning of 10 acres her family owns in east Davenport, near 53rd Street. Ms. Bowles consistently uses her five-minute allotment of time each council meeting to address a myriad of facts concerning city business—facts that are not always becoming to city staff or the council.

The discussion of the impending censorship of the city council meetings during the goal-setting sessions focused on the lack of control the mayor and/or the council has during PWB and what to do about it. Their claim is that too many citizens take that time to talk about things that are not related to city business. The other area of concern appears to be the image of Davenport as seen through the television lens during the PWB portion of the meetings. The facilitator of the goal-setting session claims there is a tape of a Davenport council meeting being circulated in other communities as a means to steer people away from Davenport. The tape was supposedly made during debates over the inclusion of sexual orientation in the city’s discrimination ordinance back in February 2000.

Contrarily, although I have not seen the tape, I believe that evidence of public debate about any issue is a sign of a healthy community, one that gives its citizens a voice. To spin such debate as some kind of black eye for our community from a marketing perspective is tunnel-visioned at best, deceitful at worst. At a minimum, I would insist that the council ascertain what, why,and by whom the alleged tape is being used and confirm that any such “marketing” problem exists before utilizing it as a scare tactic to encourage censorship of the public process.

The bottom line is that the council has a specific problem with several citizens, in particular one citizen who is angry and incensed at the treatment she and her family received from City Hall. But instead of demonstrating leadership and solving the problem, the council and city staff continue to exacerbate it by doing nothing but reacting to the constant stream of information this citizen provides each meeting. So the council’s solution, altogether juvenile and completely unacceptable, is to simply censor the portion of the meetings where all citizens are allowed to express their concerns, thoughts, and opinions relative to city business. How’s that for problem solving? They have determined to punish the public because they are inept. This council, including Mayor Yerington, provides the perfect picture of eleven monkeys sitting around the table with their eyes, ears, and mouths covered as if by doing so, they will cover up their own inadequacies. Can these nine people (Aldermen Hean and Ambrose voted against such insanity and should not be counted with the rest) really be so obtuse as to believe that by this action they are seen as anything else but obstructers of open government, and betrayers of the public trust?

The ploy the council intends to use involves the mayor calling for a recess just before the PWB portion of the meeting would begin. This way, the tape can be turned off. The council will then reconvene and finish the meeting. The public can still speak; it just won’t be aired on television as it always has been in the past. Not only is this dishonorable in its execution, it begs the question: What sort of bubble does this council operate in that they actually believe any kind of censorship will be tolerated by the public? And how disappointing to know that the very person who finally opened the doors to City Hall, Mayor Yerington, is the one now leading the charge to close them again. This kind of blatant public betrayal not only discourages civic involvement, but also enrages those that steadfastly continue to support efforts to maintain open government. It is 10 steps forward, 100 back.

But maybe that is the true agenda—to so discourage people that they cease to be involved. In the past, it has traditionally been perceived that the chief mission of Davenport’s City Hall, along with the community’s business leadership, was to operate in a vacuum, unaccountable and with impunity, for the benefit of a few at the expense of the taxpayers. We were finally making some headway against this archaic thinking. Government, the private business sector, and the public seemed to be connecting for the first time in a very long time. That connection is now in serious jeopardy.

If this Council believes that they can censor the council meetings for no other reason than their own lack of leadership or ability to effectively govern and solve problems, then they will learn the same painful lesson that the previous council learned come the next election. Meanwhile, the public must demand a reversal of this proposed measure, shameful as it is. It is not reasonable to expect two aldermen (Hean and Ambrose) to battle this alone. The public must visibly support these gentlemen if we are to stop this travesty. We must collectively send the message that this is America, not Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, and we will be heard, one way or another.
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