City Council political theater

The Durango City Council works tirelessly on various issues for what is effectively less than minimum wage. I appreciate councilors’ hard work and dedication to help make Durango a great place to live. Not only does City Council focus on critical city issues, it also represents the values of Durango, the heartbeat of the community. All too often, feedback is disproportionately negative despite the work generally being positive. Unfortunately, this opinion article will focus on an opportunity for the City Council to improve itself.

In the past two City Council meetings, 20 of 22 public comments were against the proposed new city policy prohibiting the consideration of legislation concerning international political matters except for those directly impacting Durango. On March 12, 10 of 12 people spoke against the proposed new rule. After comments, each council member read from prepared remarks that gave insight into each person’s vote. One stated, “We have listened. We have taken notes. And we hear you.”  Yet the City Council passed the resolution by a three to one vote. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that the listening, note taking and hearing could have incorporated any of Tuesday night’s public comments into the well-prepared written vote justifications. This was a sad indication that council members’ minds were made prior to hearing any public comments. 

An editorial in the Herald stated that the resolution is “meant to keep meetings about business moving along.” Given what we’ve just experienced, a modest proposal would be to do away with all public comments at City Council meetings if they are not going to be considered when voting. Let’s stop wasting everyone’s time with theatrics and keep the meetings moving along.

Also in the editorial, the Herald argued that the new rule is needed to “prevent Zoom bombings,” essentially parroting City Council. First, “Zoom bombing” is a technological issue. A city policy will do absolutely nothing to prevent that. Secondly, in the March 4 edition of the Herald, City Attorney Mark Morgan claimed, “limiting the scope of public comments … would also allow City Council to shut down hate speech.” Yet, prior to any public comments, Mayor Melissa Youssef warned, “We will immediately cut you off if there is any mention of hate speech.” Sadly, the “hate speech/zoom bombing” excuse is just more theatrics.

As anyone who has been following the new policy proposal knows, the catalyst for City Council to adopt the policy was the Durango Palestinian Solidarity Coalition’s (DPSC) petition to City Council to: 1) Pass a symbolic permanent ceasefire resolution between Israel and Hamas; and 2) Promote an exchange of all hostages held by both Israel and Hamas. The petition was signed by 820 people.­

City Council, and the Durango Herald, have encouraged DPSC members to contact their federal representatives. But as many of the commenters stated in their public remarks, most people in the DPSC and other community members have been contacting represent­atives for months. Calls, letters and emails have fallen on deaf ears. But at least one City Council member was listening. Dave Woodruff voted against the policy. In his remarks Tuesday, he thoughtfully explained that “if constituents feel like they are not being heard by their state or federal representatives, then this is the only mechanism they have left to give their concern a voice.” Thank you, Councilor Woodruff. You get it.

Many Council members voiced concerns that they don’t have the education or background to fully understand the history and context of the conflict. But Durango seventh-grade students in their social studies curriculum have just finished a segment on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the current “war.” Do we really have a higher standard for our middle schoolers than we do for our City Council? 

For anyone who wants to learn more about the conflict, the DPSC is hosting a teach-in and film discussion at the Durango Public Library at 6 p.m., Mon., March 25. The event is free but space is limited. We welcome members of the Durango City Council, who may want to better understand the history of the current conflict and how it ended up in this terrible place we find ourselves.

–Michael Fadil, Durango