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KATIE ZERR: Certain tactics can erode public support

When does a need to know cross the line and become a roadblock to getting work done?
Throughout the 18 years that this reporter has been covering local government, I have been through many an issue where I thought no amount of time would heal a rift between government officials, departments, personalities and residents.
I have watched as city councilmen nearly came to blows over issues. The clash of personalities and new vs. the old ways of thinking were nearly enough to start a rumble outside of city hall.
I have also watched as certain people, thinking they were above the rule of government, tried to push the city back in time. What was perceived as fiscal action was really kicking the can down the road and covering up problems with a Band Aid. Luckily a proactive path set by the council prevented the city from being pushed back into an unproductive time.
I have watched battles between commissioners and department heads, council and board members being pushed by unreasonable residents and bullies trying to get their way with intimidation tactics.
Some government boards end up coming out on top because of reason and patience. I have experienced this several times on all levels of government. Watching officials handle unreasonable people, whether they are part of the team or outside influencers, has been both entertaining and educational.
There are times that there is no reasoning with people. They don’t understand that throwing nasty insults without merit is not the way to deal with a problem.
The constant badgering of boards and council by individuals who think they are accomplishing some goal, only makes it worse for those who have legitimate problems or questions for these boards.
There are times when I have been incensed by actions taken by a council or a board during a meeting. When the meeting was over, I went to either the mayor, a councilman, the police chief or fire chief, department head or the city administrator for an explanation. I would put in my two cents worth, listen to their reasoning for the particular decisions and agree or disagree.
There have been times that I have fought with city hall over certain issues or disagreed publicly with commissioners on certain issues. That is my right as a citizen and a taxpayer in this community.
I have occupied the time of several government officials trying to sway them to my way of thinking and several times have stepped out of my reporter role to put in my two cents when I felt it was necessary.
This is not the first time in these 18 years that I have felt compelled to comment on the actions of a board or those of the citizenry. In watching the videos of recent county commission meetings, I am appalled at what I am seeing.
First let me say it is the right of taxpayers to ask questions, to request information and to be involved in their government. I believe that with all my heart.
But there is a line between inquiry and harassment. That line has been crossed several times in the past month or so.
Several people are making it more difficult for others to have a say in their government. They have forced the commission to close ranks and enforce rules that are legal but put constraints on interactive meetings.
When does a taxpayer concern become a dog and pony show? When that taxpayer becomes badgering, unreasonable or insulting.
There is a difference between having legitimate concerns and causing a scene. One will have a positive reaction, the other will not.
If you want answers to why some moves were made, ask your representative. We elected them to make decisions for us. If you are not satisfied, talk to them, tell them and ask for these answers.
Are there legitimate questions that should be asked of this and all other government boards? Absolutely.
Are there times when citizens should come before these boards, present their arguments or complaints? That is a resounding yes.
Then there are times when it becomes clear that individuals are there for one thing and that is to disrupt the meeting and try to humiliate board members.
This is where they lose public support.
They may think they are bringing things to light. They may think they have a grand purpose. All of that can be buried quickly by grandstanding and insults.
One thing is very clear in watching the actions and interactions between government boards and residents over the years. When personal feelings about an individual  whether it be a government official, a department head or a teacher or coach, becomes the driving force behind one’s actions, it also becomes their Achilles’ heel.
Being pushy, nasty and insulting is not the manner in which to get answers to legitimate questions.
It is however a good way to close the ears of those who govern and lose the support of other citizens.
– Katie Zerr –