For a government decision to have legitimacy, citizens must feel they’ve had a say. That’s why we’re concerned about a recent decision by the Casper City Council to forgo a public hearing about a recently proposed anti-discrimination resolution.
The resolution seeks to affirm equality for all of Casper’s LGBT residents, and this board expressed support for the resolution two weeks ago. Our issue, now, is not with the resolution; we fully endorse its passage. Our issue is with the process; the Council should bring the issue to a public hearing before they vote.
Time and again, we’ve advocated for transparency in public life. Without it, government simply cannot function to the best of its abilities. Doubt and distrust are able to flourish in our community.
Council members have insisted that they’ve already heard from the public, that they know enough of how the public feels about the resolution to bring it to a vote. Some members have even claimed that the controversy of the topic would inhibit constructive dialogue at a public hearing.
But even if Council has already heard from many constituents about their position on the resolution, we fear Council will set a precedent with this decision. Going forward, will Council shy away from public hearings about issues that are controversial or divisive? Will our city leaders fear bringing difficult subjects out into the open for the community to discuss?
And if so, will we trust the decisions they make if they make them without public debate?
When the Natrona County School Board voted to close four schools in the district, they did so without opening the issue up to a public forum. They failed to facilitate a dialogue with the community prior to the vote. And distrust for the school board quickly followed, culminating in a lawsuit from the Town of Mills.
If the Council believes that the resolution is a good thing, then avoiding a public hearing does it a disservice. That’s because without a full public conversation, those who opposed it will continue to question its legitimacy.
Everyone should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard; if the representatives who we’ve elected sequester themselves from public opinion when deciding on difficult issues, we aren’t able to trust that they’re acting on our behalf.
The process is important. It allows the public to participate in the decisions made by their government.
The City Council should be even more motivated to hold public hearings for topics that are divisive. Their constituents deserve to make their views known to the officials they’ve elected to represent them. They deserve to see that government is working for them and with them. They should be included in the conversation. Because then, at least, they can feel validated regardless of the outcome.