Chickens? Hardly. Watchdogs? Yes.

By Gary Gordon

Publisher’s note: In last month’s Iguana, we ran a sort-of-satire regarding the decorum at City Commission meetings. In the rush of trying to get everything together for the issue, I did not critically read it, and subsequently, it was pointed out to me its one-sided and dismissive tone. We received this response to it.

Democracy featuring citizen input and citizen criticism of elected officials is messy.

In its last issue the Iguana published an opinion piece by Janice Garry which insisted, among other things, that citizens attending city commission meetings were behaving like chickens pecking at commissioners, wanting an opportunity in the limelight.

Let’s be clear: this is a horrendous portrayal of citizens participating in local democracy, local government; a horrendous portrayal of dissent.  

“Once they’ve had their say I watch their feathers puff up and see them strut back to their chairs, self-congratulatory that they’ve put on such a good show…” Garry wrote.

But within that room, the people speaking to the City Commissioners are not the ones with power. It is the Commission that has the power. And that power must always be challenged.

And what are the citizens saying when faced with a bogus affordable housing plan?

“Don’t do it.”

And what are they saying when faced with substantial increases in property taxes, rates and fees?  

“Don’t do it.”

More than “Don’t do it,” they are saying, in activist Greta Thunberg’s words, “You’re not working hard enough.”

Garry complains she’s “heard commissioner’s intelligence diminished, their morality disputed and their motives denigrated” all by “chest puffing chickens.”

Welcome to American politics where all that and more is part of the history of dissent — on the part of watchdogs and activists, not chickens.

What citizens hear from Commissioners is whining about how hard their job is, how annoyed they are with citizen participation that doesn’t comport with their ideas, and from Commissioner Helen Warren especially, they hear scolding—scolding people who attend the meetings.

At recent meetings I attended only Commissioner Gigi Simmons responded to Warren, thanking those in attendance.

As for the “atmosphere” of Commission meetings, only the Commission can improve that, and not by building a moat of rules to reduce citizen participation and access to information.

We can only speculate as to why Garry chose to denigrate citizens engaged in their civic duties while defending a Commission that often behaves imperially and some have said incompetently.

But Garry’s so-called satire was inside out, a disgraceful and disgusting failure, for as the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, the job of a satirist is to reveal the truths of misuses of power on behalf of the afflicted while hoisting the comfortable on their own petards.

Gary Gordon was a City Commissioner 1983-85 and Mayor-Commissioner 1985-86.

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