Letter to the Editor

Citizen Forum

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Reasons to move

Here are three†compelling reasons to move all Eureka Springs city meetings out of the current 12-person jury room.

Handicapped access.†It is 27 years since the U.S. government passed the ADA law prescribing equal access for disabled citizens.†That law gave local governments three years to comply. It is now 24 years past this deadline, way past time to comply with this law. †

Citizen Access.†The jury room also denies access to non-handicapped citizens.†The two or three seats for citizens are placed behind the committee members.† The committee is sequestered talking only to itself. Excluding citizens leads to the easy impression that citizens arenít really interested in the deliberations. This is a misperception. The City Council meetings are videotaped, put on the cityís website, and typically have over 1,500 hits. That is an enormous amount for a town of 2,000 people! Direct citizen access should be provided. Citizens need to experience the deliberation and the committee members need to see the citizens they represent.

Avoiding GroupThink.†Here Iím talking as Dr. Knowles the social/environmental psychologist who has taught about GroupThink for 40 years.†(https://www.britannica.com/topic/groupthink). A sequestered meeting space promotes GroupThink errors in decision making.†The sequestered discussion is exclusively among committee members and inhibits considering ideas outside the committee. As a result, ideas that committee members share and repeat often take on an exaggerated appearance of truth, because that is all the committee members hear.†Problems and solutions seem clearer and simpler than they are because there is little dissent. Everyone adopts the same assumptions. As a consequence, the committee is not required to think deeply or flexibly about the issues and does not explore alternatives.†

The overconfidence and assumed unanimity means that committee members feel no need to contact experts, consultants, or people with different knowledge or experience. The end result of GroupThink is that the sequestered committee sometimes confidently makes bad decisions.†

There are several startling examples of bad decisions that the City Council has made.† One is deciding to spend nearly $500,000 to replace all the city water meters in the same year. It seemed like such a good idea.†But we now know it didnít work. The new meters didnít save any water. In fact, water loss is now higher than before the meters were replaced.†What happened?† A myth that sounded plausible got accepted as truth.†The council believed that they didnít need to rely on consultants, empirical investigations, hard data, or careful analysis.†They took wildly inflated opinions as facts and made a bad decision that they were convinced and probably still are convinced was good.†

I think that the recent water/sewer rate decisions were another example. The council focused their discussion on how much money they needed to raise, not on what would be a fair and sufficient way to structure the rates.†The council talked only to themselves, did not discuss or consider public comments, did not seek expert advice. As a result, they continued to use a tier system that makes no sense and has no justification, decide on water rates that far exceed the cost of providing water, select sewer rates that fail to pay for the sewer expenses, and establish a sewer bond fee that they apply to water users, even those 25 percent who are excluded from using the sewers.

GroupThink can be minimized by opening boundaries to other people, other ideas, and other audiences.†A standard city council meeting space, with aldermen sitting side by side facing and talking to constituents, as is done in most cities, would change the dynamics of the committee deliberation, I think positively. Look to Carroll Countyís Quorum Court where Judge Barr actively prohibits side conversations and requires members to talk to constituents. I canít predict that an accessible meeting space would always lead to better decisions, but a more inclusive meeting space would promote discussions where committee members rely less on each other and reference more the public who they represent.† The structure of the space should match the structure of the relationships. Committee members need to face and talk to the constituents they serve, not the other committee members.

ó Eric Knowles

Return of the swamp creature

In the fetid swamp of the White House, there lives a three-headed Congress monster, vicious and evil. This serpent with poisonous blood has been ravaging the land and terrorizing the people. Its cold lizard eyes are black pools of darkness, the type of darkness that awakens children from a deep sleep crying out their terror and looking for the safety of their parentsí embrace. These soulless orbs search the land in the beastís never-ending quest to satisfy its bloodlust. Most recently it has been spotted haunting the waters of the poor and the sick, the females, and other sacred creatures known as the LGBTQ. The heads of this vile creature bear an uncanny resemblance to Senator Cotton, Senator Boozman, and Representative Womack.

Enraged at this betrayal of their most sacred traditions, the gods issue a mandate to seek out these congressmen and kill the beast at first sight. Senators Collins, Murkowski, and McCain take up the sword and swiftly slice the heads of Cotton, Boozman and Womack from the body politic. Victorious in their sacred quest to rescue the people from certain death, they hasten to return to the swamplands in D.C. Arising slowly behind them, blood dripping from its many mouths is the regenerated Hydra, all heads intact once again and laughing mirthlessly.

ó Kathy Martone Ed.D.

Letter to Senator

Senator, you signed on to legislation that sanctions Russia†for their interference in our democracy. Now you need to sign on to the efforts to protect it from your President. There are two bills that address protecting the special counsel from being removed by the people who are under investigation. This morning you made it clear once again that you are running interference for the Republican Right. You represent†Arkansas†and took an oath to protect our form of government from all enemies. You do not represent the Republican Party or your own warped view of what is best for us. You, like your president, dismiss those voters who question your tactics and motives as poor losers. Who do you think is going to lose the battle for truth, justice and honor in Muellerís ongoing investigation? Will it be those who lie and then amend their lies as the truth comes out? Will it be those who wrap themselves in the flag with absolutely no regard for what it stands for? I read recently your belief in authoritarian style government. This is a nation who is governed by the people, Mr. Cotton.

ó Mark Eastburn