Vote could have shown compromise

Published 7:10 am Friday, May 20, 2016

I am impressed that a discussion regarding a two-minute extension in public participation should take up more than 30 minutes of council time, but I guess I shouldn’t underestimate tenacity.

The ironic thing is, most council meetings I’ve been to only had maybe five to 10 public speakers. That means that even if each person were allowed to speak for a full five minutes, the meeting would only be extended by 10 to 20 extra minutes. And this is assuming everyone even uses their entire five minutes.

On the one hand, I agree that if a speaker can’t make his or her point in three minutes, then two more minutes won’t do them any good. But on the other hand, this is about more than time or making a point at a public meeting.

This is about race.

This is about race, because some people say it is about race. When the four white council members vote against a proposal supported by the three African-American council members, and when that proposal is supported by some of the loudest African-American voices at the city meetings, then it should surprise no one when the vote is seen by some as racially motivated.

What matters here is less the actual motivation. What matters is perception. Make no mistake: Perception is no small thing, and feelings have been hurt and relationships ruined by less. And in this case, to quite a few people, things aren’t looking good.

But let’s set aside perception and consider motivation. It was clear to me, prior to the vote, that if the two-minute extension didn’t pass, quite a few people would be angry. It was clear to me, prior to the vote, that a no vote would be seen as racially motivated. It was clear to me, prior to the vote, that spending an extra 10 or 15 minutes at a meeting isn’t much of a sacrifice. Moreover, if city leaders are on the one hand encouraging citizens to become engaged with public policy and sound off at informal town hall meetings, then they should at the very least welcome more participation at the actual council meetings.

But no. Despite all of this, four on the council still voted no to grant an extra two minutes.

There’s a lot of talk about working together for the good of the city. Working together requires compromise, and compromise requires one to see things from the other person’s perspective. And then, every so often, make sacrifices if they’re not too costly.

I know why adding two minutes to a person’s public participation time isn’t going to make much difference in our civic debate. But I don’t know why adding those two minutes was too costly a vote for four council members.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email him at