Once again, Amarillo City Council is making headlines.
After originally banning photography and clapping during city council meetings (just ask Kip Billups), the city implemented—and then retracted—7 am meeting times. Now, the city has decided to stop broadcasting the one section of a city council meeting dedicated to community dialogue, simply because they don’t like what is being said.
According to The Amarillo Pioneer, just before the start of last Tuesday’s meeting, Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller announced the decision to no longer broadcast the public comment period of city council meetings. He cited “personal attacks” and “inaccurate information” by community members as reasons why. He added, “It’s not required to be broadcast and, in fact, it’s not even required to take place.”
Over the past year, Amarillo City Council has earned widespread criticism over decisions related to homelessness in the city, animal euthanasia, protesting, a new tax-funded ballpark, and more. As a result, increasingly more residents have been utilizing the public comment portion of council meetings to voice their discontent—which is also what many residents feel has led the city council to alter its meeting time and visibility.
City council meetings were previously held at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, during which the public comment period and regular meeting were contiguous and made available for public viewing. However, last month the city proposed and, for a short time implemented, a 7 am meeting time that many community members believe was done to suppress citizen engagement. The community pushback over the time change was enough for the city council to withdraw their proposal and, instead, change the public comment period and meeting time to 12 pm and 1 pm, respectively.
The change didn’t happen soon enough, however, as the state-required public hearings for the city’s property tax increase are still being held at 7 am.
James Schenck, a local activist who regularly attends city council meetings, expressed concerns not only regarding their decision, but in the process of getting there. “My concern is it looks like the city manager made this decision on his own and if he did consult with the mayor and council, they didn’t do it publicly,” stated Schenck. “And to take public comments, which is part of the council session, off and out of public view, how will people be able to see what is going on and what people’s concerns are?”
Despite the city’s decision, and in true Amarillo fashion, residents have decided to take matters into their own hands by filming and broadcasting the public comment period independently. The videos will reportedly be aired on a Facebook group page titled “Amarillo by Mourning” with the satirical tagline, “Open Spaces- Unless You’re Homeless; Endless Opportunities- If You Don’t Clap.”