Letter: We must demand better from local elected officials

From: David Jones


The “powers that be” in Columbus take great pride in being community leaders of a “welcoming community.” However, our community is unwelcoming of diversity of thought in our most critical matters: our government matters. Our local elected officials, especially our mayor, are intolerant of diverse opinions.

At public government meetings, we are allowed to hear the officials’ predetermined decisions. However, if we offer an alternative approach to “their way” or just have a legitimate question, we are disrespectfully not listened to, interrupted or not responded to. Often times, we are berated by our public servants when thoughtfully and respectfully disagreeing with them. Many times, we are not allowed to speak at all. I have personally been silenced by the current mayor at city council meetings on numerous occasions.

On one occasion, the mayor read a written statement personally and bitterly attacking the residents in the council chambers who were there to respectfully challenge his aggressive growth of government. When he was done reading, he refused to allow any of the residents he attacked to respond — shutting us all down with threat of ejection by police officers.

On several occasions at council meetings, the mayor has not allowed me and others to address him and the council members about matters before them. The open-ended question-and-answer period between residents and elected officials at the end of the council meetings implemented by former mayor is totally disallowed by Mayor Lienhoop.

Even more tyrannical, the current mayor “keeps score” of involved citizens. He maintains a spreadsheet of citizens who dare submit legal public information requests and/or communicate their opinions to him and city department heads via email. The mayor has staff publish the spreadsheet to the local media to publicly shame those citizens and to intimidate everyone else if they dare step out of line by asking questions. Alarmingly, the local media takes the bait and publishes names of the citizens in articles condemning them.

The county council is not much better. Many members at their public meetings cut the citizens off and speak over them to lessen their voice and ram-rod their own point of view to a vote. It’s a classic good ol’ boy system in which only a select few have “a seat at the table” and that table is behind closed doors to the rest of us. Those of us who speak up are labeled “naysayers” and publicly vilified.

Remember the Louisiana teacher who was recently silenced at a public school board meeting and arrested for speaking out against the school superintendent’s salary increase? Her community rallied around her with not only support but admiration for exercising her constitutional right. The superintendent issued a public apology.

Contrast this to Columbus, where we allow our elected “leaders” to silence our voices and vilify us for simply offering our opinions at public meetings and making public information requests.

Columbus will never be the welcoming community we aspire to be if this persists. We must demand better from our elected officials.