The Greensboro City Council may have finally had enough.
After hours of being yelled at by the same group of people about the same issue, the City Council at the suggestion of Councilmember Justin Outling discussed altering its town hall meetings which have been held once a month for over year.
Outling said that he had heard from some of his constituents who said they would like to speak to the City Council, but would not come to the town hall meetings.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she had heard the same thing from people and suggested the Council discuss tweaking the meetings because they weren’t accomplishing their intended purpose.
She said, “Something needs to change. I don’t know that the meetings are working now.”
Anyone who has attended one of these meetings for the past six months can understand why. The same people come every month and they are organized. Speakers are evidently allowed by the organizers to put things in their own words as long as they stick to the central theme.
The theme of this meeting was that Marcus Deon Smith, a homeless man who died on Sept. 8 after police attempted to restrain him in order to have him transported to the hospital, was in fact murdered by police and that Police Chief Wayne Scott should be fired.
If someone speaks at one of these town hall meetings who the crowd disagrees with then they get shouted down. When councilmembers try to respond and their response is something different from what the group, dominated by Democracy Greensboro and the Homeless Union, wants to hear, they get shouted down.
When Mayor Nancy Vaughan tries to speak she gets shouted down. Vaughan, of course, is the one person in the room who could put a stop to the misbehavior but she refuses to take control, even to the point of not having speakers stop talking when their five minutes is up.
Vaughan won’t have people removed from the meeting for shouting from their seats and makes the whole meeting worse by answering questions shouted to her from the audience.
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter suggested that they have some rules of decorum for the Council Chambers like other governmental bodies. The problem isn’t a lack of rules, it is a lack of enforcement. People shout down speakers and councilmembers because they are allowed to do so and because they have been allowed to do so for months, it keeps getting worse.
Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said of the town hall format “I think its been hijacked. We hear the same things month after month from basically the same people.”
Later she said that she had been in favor of trying the town hall format but, “I would be in favor at this point of going back to the previous format.” She said that under the prior format where the public had 30 minutes at the beginning of every meeting to speak that there was more diversity of subject matter .
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said that for her “protecting a safe space” for people to speak was important and people didn’t feel safe coming to the public forums to share their opinions if they were going to be yelled out from the audience.
She said, “I want to have 15 different topics come to a town hall.”
Councilmember Goldie Wells said, “You know I like town halls. But there have to be some rules. When I’m meeting a group I just kind of shut them down.”
She added that when the councilmembers started speaking the audience all got up and left. She said, “All of them say the same thing it seems. There is nobody here to listen.”
The only person on the City Council who spoke in support of the unruly behavior is, no surprise here, Councilmember Sharon Hightower.
The City Council other than Hightower, seemed to reach an agreement that the town hall meeting was not working and needed to be tweaked.
Vaughan asked that councilmembers come to her individually with their ideas, so any decision made about the town hall meetings will be made in private behind closed doors, which is the way this council likes to do business.