The Carbon Hill City Council and Mayor Mark Chambers practically lost their political legitimacy Monday night. That refers to the power and authority given to you by the people. It is what you …
The Carbon Hill City Council and Mayor Mark Chambers practically lost their political legitimacy Monday night.
That refers to the power and authority given to you by the people. It is what you need to have the respect to conduct business with the approval obtained from those you govern.
They blew that big time Monday. The whole lot of them.
This was the first council meeting after the controversy arose about the Facebook postings made by Chambers, which was taken to mean by some that LGBTQ people, pro-choice supporters and others would need to be killed. Chambers has earlier said his comments were misinterpreted and has said he will not resign.
After international press coverage, the media, advocates and local citizens arrived, making for a standing room crowd in the back behind mostly filled seats. Many came to ask questions and have their say.
Well, they never had a chance. The matter wasn't even on the agenda. It was the definition of a bunker mentality.
Before the community center was opened, police (said to number about 10) were swarming inside the building. People were scanned by a wand and allowed in. Police were on either side of the room, standing guard and warning everyone they could not walk beyond the speaker stand at the edge of the audience.
This made it difficult for the media to set up. On our beat, we normally place a tape recorder in front of the mayor, center on the seating area, as sometimes it is hard to pick up voices at a distance from the audience. Our video of the meeting also proved that.
One TV cameraman was not happy about the new arrangement. Our reporter certainly wasn't when he approached House afterward and found out this will now be a permanent rule, unless you get permission from the mayor and council. This will be interesting when we only have a half dozen people in the audience again. House felt it was justified, saying the mayor and council had threats against them.
We think it was good to have a little extra police presence, but the clamp down that happened that night was a little on the overkill. Based on what we've seen, the threats have probably been more bluster than anything else, and the procedures that took place came across as heavy handed for a town of less than 2,000 people. As for the media, we were all trying to adequately tell the story, but were were hemmed in, and certainly prevented from approaching Chambers and council members afterward, as was the public. (If the rule to not approach the seating area is permanent, we can only hope the council returns to coming out the front door, because if they sneak out the side door, you'll never get follow up questions again.)
But the biggest, dumbest, craziest and self-defeating thing done that night was to overlook the elephant in the room all together. Ignore that man behind the curtain, Dorothy, as the Great and Powerful Oz ... well, never mind. At least Dorothy and her friends got to talk to the "Wizard" in person.
This council talked over normal business for about 10 minutes — and normal business had to be taken care of — but then the mayor asked if the council members had anything to say. The six council members — four of whom had called for his resignation — somewhat looked to be in half shame, hung their heads and said no or shook their heads. The mayor made no comments either. Then the meeting was adjourned.
The audience didn't know what to do at first, and finally started asking if the council or mayor was going to talk about THE issue. They said nothing, signing the minutes and walking back through the side entrance to the meeting area, where they came in through. (That is not normal either.)
Needless to say, this did not sit well with some audience members. One called for a recall effort on the mayor, although we would want to see more proof that this is valid. It will apparently depend on what type of council has been organized. Such a recall is rare for regular Alabama councils.
But essentially, on a night when the community needed to vent, the whole council came in through a side door, bottled up everyone and everything, came in long enough to be seen, and left out the side door. It was the absolutely wrong way to handle this, as the community needed to have its say. It was cowardly almost, not facing up to hearing response from your community and the people who elected you, as well as those who have come from a distance to raise questions.
The whole circus made the city look like Bad Day at Black Rock. And Spencer Tracy better not ask any questions.
This is not how a secure democracy acts, protecting its political legitimacy. We could ask for some resignations on the council, but the council already has enough trouble getting people to help and councilmen to show up for meetings (except Monday, when they all showed up, which was shocking in itself). We'll have to leave that alone for the time, knowing that the voters could take care of them in a little more than a year when election time rolls around.
We could say the same for the mayor, but he is at a different level of responsibility. He is the cause of this mess, in whatever way you see it. At the very, very least, he mishandled communications with his Facebook account and caused an international uproar, and at worst has communicated the most vile of threats that has upset whole segments of the population. This has been an outrageous affair that has ruined the credibility of the town even before the meeting.
Now, under his leadership Monday, the whole city council wound up looking like a military state where we will not answer questions or hear comments, starting with the agenda. And it is Carbon Hill, so one knows that on a normal night someone could have spoken up - but not this night. And now this will drag on, possibly for the next year until the elections.
Now, we are not going to just call for the mayor's resignation. We demand it. Now. This is for the good of Carbon Hill and Walker County, whether you think you are innocent or guilty. The circus has gone on long enough. If Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers can close down, then the Carbon Hill Facebook Fiasco can, too — but only if Mark Chambers resigns. He needs to put aside whatever is holding him back, and act for our best interest, not for personal redemption. He can get that on his own time; right now, the citizens need their city back to normal, with a city leader who has political legitimacy. And it can only happen if Chambers goes. It will not have been too soon.