Civil societies are those in which ideas are explored openly with the intent of discovering truth. This is done through the process of public meetings, community workshops and other engagement tools offered by the City of Tehachapi.
Recently, some have taken issue with the three minutes that are limited to each speaker at Tehachapi City Council meetings. This time limit certainly isn’t new, but recently with the increased amount of public business and disruptions, it was necessary to enforce that limit. This was done to ensure all speakers were given the same amount of time and a reasonable opportunity to speak in front of the council. These limitations exist in every city, county, commission and public organization in the United States. Suggestions that they are somehow unique to Tehachapi are simply another attempt at disruption of our business.
The public comment portion of City Council meetings are an important time for the council to hear issues regarding the city. It is not intended to solve the world’s problems, engage in a question-and-answer with the council or staff or even reach an agreement on a matter. It exists to make the council aware of potential issues under their purview in the community. Should those issues rise to the next level, they are then handed off to city staff for further research and either a follow-up is made with the person bringing up that issue, or, it is placed on a future agenda for more discussion and action by the council.
The three-minute time frame is a vital tool for civility and order. Should we disregard any limitations on time or decorum in our meetings, we would actually be suppressing public input, involvement and attendance. Without order, fewer people would attend these meetings if they had to listen to an extended amount of speakers discussing issues not under the authority of the council. This would push all agenda items later into the evening, which then would prevent people who wish to speak about a specific agenda item from doing so because of commitments to their families, jobs and other responsibilities. Meetings that last for hours on end are a disservice to the community; therefore, parameters exist.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.” I believe this notion has been lost on those who seek a bully pulpit and not true dialogue with the council. These efforts include attacking the order of law in order to champion the cause of disorder. Eliminating restrictions provides a free-for-all where the “majority rules” mob mentality doesn’t take into account our true form of government, the representative republic. John Adams wrote several pieces regarding the difference between “civility” where human beings are capable of self-government, and “barbarism” in which their passions, hatred and lust for revenge put them in a state where civility is not possible. We cannot let our form of government slip into this dark area.
We aim to accomplish the goals of City Council meetings, which are to approve the business of the people. It is, after all, a business meeting, similar to a board of directors at a private corporation. Financials are approved, agreements made, initiatives discussed. The intents are very similar across the two sectors.
As mentioned before, City Council meetings are one tool of that civility and one of many avenues for discussion of city-related issues. We encourage public comment, but, as always, I continue to invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call me at 822-2200 or swing by City Hall with any questions or concerns you might have. Contact information for each of your City Council members is also available on our website at TehachapiCityHall.com.
Greg Garrett is Tehachapi's city manager.