“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.”
This is a bit of common sense, frequently attributed to our 16th president Abraham Lincoln, which several members of the Helena-West Helena City Council should adhere to when they meet in public sessions. There are a number of words that come quickly to mind as I go about trying to describe last Tuesday's (May 7) city council session.
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.” This is a bit of common sense, frequently attributed to our 16th president Abraham Lincoln, which several members of the Helena-West Helena City Council should adhere to when they meet in public sessions. There are a number of words that come quickly to mind as I go about trying to describe last Tuesday's (May 7) city council session. “Foolishness” would certainly rank near the top followed very closely by “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.” It was the first time that I had the “pleasure” – and I use that term very loosely here – to attend a council meeting since the alderman elected back in November took their seats. I must admit that I wasn't too impressed previously but after listening to the mess that took place in council chambers I was simply appalled this go round. Never in my 35 years as a journalist have I witnessed such open disregard for respect for opposing opinions. Five and six people were carrying on conversations at the same time. What ever happened to Roberts Rules of Order? A copy just might make the perfect gift for the alderman in your ward. Absolutely no business was accomplished during the session that lasted just short of two hours. Fortunately, there were no visitors other than the media at the meeting. I must state here that I would be openly ashamed for anyone outside of our community to have witnessed this fiasco. The biggest point of contention centered on the city's efforts to obtain a working front loader to get commercial garbage picked up in the city. Local business owners are concerned and rightfully so. Mayor Arnell Willis explained, or tried to explain – he didn't have much of a chance in what had turned out to be nothing more than a shouting match – that the city's front loader was on it's last leg and needed desperately to be replaced. At the April 23 meeting of the council, the members opted to repair the broken truck and lease a truck for two weeks and place bids for front loader at the May 7 session. Believing the repair cost was going to be in the neighborhood of $2,500, the city was hit with an $11,700 repair bill for the old truck. Willis gave a break down of the monthly cost for a new investment and two options for a payoff schedule. The issue was really a “no-brainer.” The city must pick up garbage and they must have a truck to handle that chore. Eventually, repair costs are going to add up to more than the cost of investing in new equipment. There is a fraction on the council that appears to be more set on disagreeing with the mayor than taking care of city business. When Willis attempted to address the city's finances, several council members simply aborted the session and walked out of the meeting. Before I came to the council meeting, I attended the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival lineup unveiling ceremony. There are a lot of people working their tails off to make Helena-West Helena a place that people will want to visit and maybe even take root. It's a real shame that a few malcontents could be allowed to shoot down these tourism and music efforts. After the meeting I was approached by one of the council members who asked, “I know that you can write whatever you want to write about but why don't you write something on our side?” Well, first of all I didn't realize there were sides. Is politics really so shallow that the only thing that matters is whose side you're on? I thought all the elected officials and the media had one thing in common – the best interest of the people we all serve. Besides, it's very difficult to defend, rude, boorish behavior. As I left the session, I noticed as I looked back over my shoulder that one of the council members was making some mocking gestures in my direction. I thought that juvenile behavior ended with junior high school. I wish the best to those who sincerely want to help this city. I will be ready to help through my capacity as editor of this newspaper but I won't support the tomfoolery that is currently happening at city hall. The city is faced with a serious financial crisis. It is time for these council members to step up to the plate and put up or shut up. As far as R-E-S-P-E–C–T is concerned it is not something someone owes you. It must come the old fashioned way. You must earn it. In order to be respected, you must first respect others.