Heads Up Amarillo—Channel 7 Town Hall Meeting—July 23, 2015

town-hall-mtgRecently I heard a Channel 7 advertisement about a town hall meeting called “building a Better Amarillo.” I assumed that the town hall meeting was a City of Amarillo sponsored event so I planned to write a column entitled, “Responsive Government or Public Relations (PR) Gimmickry?” Before penning the column I called the City of Amarillo to get more information about the town hall meeting. Turns out Amarillo’s Channel 7 is planning the open forum event. I called Channel 7 and asked for more details about the whys and hows of the forum. Channel 7 forwarded me promotional information that begins: “In the wake of recent controversies surrounding City of Amarillo leaders and downtown redevelopment, ABC 7 is planning an open forum where residents can have their voices heard.” The forum is called “Building a Better Amarillo” scheduled for Thursday July 23, 2015 from 6 to 7:30 at the Amarillo College Downtown Campus auditorium. The forum will air on channel 7 from 6 to 7 and then stream on their station website until 7:30.

I asked my Channel 7 contact, who is part of the forum planning, all the whos—such as who will respond to questions, who will ask or moderate the questions, and how citizens can participate via social media since I was told that questions can be asked via Twitter using #YourVoiceYour Future.” The forum will be moderated by Mark Hyman and channel 7 news anchors Lisa Schmidt and Larry Lemmons. The information received from Channel 7 also said this: “Right now, ABC 7 News is inviting the City Council and city leaders, along with several others who play a part in downtown redevelopment. The public is also invited to attend the event to ask questions and let their voices be heard. The promotional from Channel 7 also said this: “A town hall in this capacity will be a first for the Amarillo market. Its goal is to make sure residents’ voices are heard in an open forum dedicated to “Building a Better Amarillo. ABC 7 is committed to covering the issues that matter to Amarillo and the Panhandle communities…We are proud to continue this conversation and offer an opportunity for our audience’s voices to be heard on an issue they feel so passionately about.”

Is Channel 7 doing a “good thing?” Is Channel 7 providing an avenue through which citizens can obtain honest answers and transparency about assorted “goings on” at City Hall? Or is Channel 7 providing another forum that will primarily focus on downtown revitalization issues? What is the difference between what Channel 7 is doing with its open forum and the input citizens can make directly to City Council every week by appearing at City Council meetings and expressing their concerns? Who exactly has Channel 7 pegged as “city leaders” to participate in the open forum? How did Channel 7 select its forum participants? Is Channel 7 trying to “up” its ratings?

If I were to attend the town hall meeting I would ask about the demographics of the City’s workforce. I would ask how it is that of the 512 people who earn more than $60,000 a year, 404 are white males—only 6 are African Americans and none are African American females. I would ask about the appearance that the City of Amarillo hires and promotes mostly white employees using taxpayer dollars. I would want answers to what appears to be rampant racism and sexism in hiring by the City of Amarillo. I would also ask why the City of Amarillo has abandoned it code and legal enforcement duties to address illegal tire dumping all over Amarillo. I would not ask any questions about downtown redevelopment because I would not want the forum to become a “stealth” opportunity for certain “interest groups” to highjack the forum. My concern is that Channel 7 will play into the hands of the “advance Amarillo” people who “want what they want” with downtown revitalization which may or may not “advance Amarillo” one iota.

I’m curious why Channel 7 is calling its forum “Building a Better Amarillo?” This sounds rather “high falutin” for a forum that might more appropriately be called, “get it off your chest,” or “speak up.” When I think of “building a better Amarillo” I think of issues that address the politics and the economics of Amarillo. Why not revisit single member district representation in Amarillo in order to improve community responsiveness? I doubt if this issue comes up ever again in Amarillo. Channel 7’s “Building a Better Amarillo” suggests that someone had done some serious homework on a wide range of specific “subsurface” socioeconomic issues that are crippling Amarillo? What are these issues—raised by whom? Will Channel 7 dare to ask the questions, “What’s wrong with Amarillo?” and allow citizens to freely express their opinions without challenge? Will Channel 7 ask, “What’s right with Amarillo?” and get that input as well? What I know about Amarillo in my few years of living here is that Amarillo is a growing town—and that’s about all. It is not Denver, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, or Washington, D. C. And maybe that is a good thing.

The “Build a Better Amarillo” town hall will be held on July 23, at 6:00 p.m. at Amarillo College Downtown Campus Auditorium. Visit Channel 7 for more information.

Copyright 2015 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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