Keep the light on for us
By Lynette Sowell, Managing Editor
My front porch
In February 2017, the Washington Post adopted a phrase that it began printing below its masthead: “Democracy dies in darkness,” a phrase which was also part of its 2019 ad during the Super Bowl.
I would venture to say that most of us agree that an open, transparent government is good for all, whether someone Is an elected official or a Joe on the Street.
I believe that discussions of actions which have taken place in the open by our elected officials should also be discussed in the open.
I am specifically referring to the very public action of Place 7 Councilman Charlie Youngs during the Tuesday, Aug. 13 city council special meeting, during which he was seen on the city’s video feed, for a split-second, flipping “the bird” while he was seated on the dais and Place 6 Councilman Kirby Lack was making a statement. Most people interpreted the gesture to be given to Councilman Lack.
Councilman Youngs and I had an open, frank phone conversation last Wednesday during which he told me several times that he was not making the gesture toward Councilman Lack. Instead, he stated he was flipping off someone in the audience, someone who he said had been making threats to come to his house and kick his butt. He also said, several times, that he recognizes the action was crude and inappropriate and would never happen again.
I appreciate his candor and I told him so at the time. He also told me that whatever the council decides, is their prerogative.
So what’s the point of today’s column?
I am asking that the Copperas Cove city council have discussions about this matter in open forum.
I believe there are certain transactions and discussions – for example, regarding real estate matters and matters concerning specific city employees/staff – that ought to be held behind closed doors.
However, in this case, frank, open discussion should be had on the dais. The voters of Copperas Cove elected Mr. Youngs to this position in 2017.
He is not a paid staff member of the City of Copperas Cove subject to corrective action of a supervisor, but he is an elected official who has already discussed his actions in public with not only the press, but on social media.
The city charter states the reasons for which a councilmember may be removed from office by fellow members of the council, but it does not discuss censure or discipline.
Perhaps it should. Several years ago, there was discussion of having a code of conduct for elected officials such as the council, and those who are on city council advisory boards. An old draft for a code of conduct was brought to the council for discussion and direction in 2017, with some of the language in that code including statements such as “Council members shall refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other members of the City Council, boards, commissions, committees, staff or the public,” and also that public officials “conduct public deliberations and processes openly, unless legally confidential, in an atmosphere of respect and civility.”
I would venture that most of us would agree that if a trio of friends are bellied up to a bar and start throwing shade, there might be some flipping of the bird and salty talk. It’s a public place. There’s a place for smack-talking. We also have a right to unfiltered conversations, speech, and action as we go about our business and lives.
But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should, and especially on the dais, by those representing our city
Mr. Youngs shared that he was gesturing to a member of the audience. If there were threats, we would like to see any police reports or records connected with these threats. If a member of the seated council is being threatened, the public has the right to know. Police reports are also a matter of public record.
People look to the city council for leadership, and the council’s silence and/or executive, closed-door discussions in this matter, could set a precedent that our elected officials don’t want to be frank, and open with us, the voters and citizens. Going by the proposed code of conduct, I don’t see how this matter is legally confidential.
We have one week more to see what the outcome will be. Let’s keep the light on for this one.