I got wind that the Missouri Liberty Coalition (MoLiCo) would be meeting last Saturday, September 19, for a "planning meeting."
Considering I used to be the "Community Free Press" liaison with the local government watchdog group, and they haven't made it, as a group, into the news much lately, I thought it might be interesting to attend the meeting and see what they were talking about.
It has been nearly a half a year since three of the MoLiCo members ran for City Council seats. Nick Ibarra won his Zone 1 Council seat, the other two contenders, Tom Martz and Fred Ellison did not prevail against their opponents in the race.
Five members were in attendance at last Saturday's meeting, while a couple of other interested non-members contributed to the conversation.
The Missouri Liberty Coalition, as featured in the January 30, 2008 issue of "CFP," focuses on Springfield City government and City Council issues. For that reason, they regularly attend City Council meetings and address the City Council, often questioning actions the Council will take regarding legislation, for the most part, crafted in the City's legal department as a result of either an issue or interest of Springfield City staff or its City Council.
Listening in on their conversation, and even contributing my own thoughts at times (though I am not a member of the group) I learned they are content with maintaining a local city government focus, although, in the early days of their founding, they had considered scrutinizing the county and state governments as well.
Some members expressed concern about what, arguably, could be considered efforts by some people in the community, and even within the government, to minimize the opinions of the members of the group by seeming to suggest because they repeatedly address the Council, their voices are somehow less important than Springfield residents who do not regularly address the City Council.
"JackeHammer" would ask, who better to address the Council, who more credible, than a small group of interested and passionate Springfield residents, to raise questions about potential legislation facing our elected representatives, than a group who regularly and consistently reads and studies each City Council agenda and every item listed upon it?
In a recent interview in the "Springfield News-Leader," reporter Kary Booher asked Springfield City manager Greg Burris some pointed questions to commemorate his first year anniversary as Springfield's City manager. During the course of answering one of Booher's questions, Burris responded,
"When we go to a City Council meeting, there is a group that shows up -- it's a small group -- and speaks out critically against the city on anything. It doesn't matter what it is. But you don't see a civil discourse within the meeting. The meetings are civil, don't get me wrong. But you don't see other citizens getting engaged in the process. That's been a little disappointing. I'm hoping that changes over the next few years. Things have been so good for so long that I think many of us took it for granted that things would continue to go very well. But we're living in a different time right now. When the only people that bother to show up to City Council meetings and other meetings and speak out are the regulars -- and that's the only voice that the council gets to hear in a public setting -- that's a little disappointing."
There was little doubt in Carl Herd's mind that Burris was speaking of the members of the Missouri Liberty Coalition, who regularly attend Council meetings.
"I think that this just shows his inexperience as a City Manager in how he responded to Mr. Booher in his interview in the paper, and that when he looks back on it, he might have answered differently," Herd said. "But, as far as him trying to diminish the small group of people who attend City Council, and we pretty much know that that's the MoLiCo, for the most part, that probably just strengthens our cause."
MoLiCo member Tom Martz gave grace to Burris' right to have and share his opinions in the "News-Leader" but, wanted to be sure there was recognition that every member of the public has that same right to address their elected representatives. He felt that through Burris' comments he had learned more about Burris' thinking.
"Mr. Burris is entitled to his opinion, just like I am entitled to my opinion, and the individual membership of MoLiCo are entitled to their opinions as well, " Martz said. "To attend City Council meetings is my right as a citizen of Springfield, to question the actions of government is my duty as a citizen of Springfield, and we are a representative republic, therefore, my representation at City Council meetings, no matter how many I attend, should not be looked at as a means of disdain."
What are MoLiCo's plans for the future?
"We're still a very active group, maybe not huge in numbers but, a very passionate group that are still working on the real important issues, following City Council agendas, and responding to that, whether it be the pension shortfall or Springfield Mill and Lumber, or whatever issue comes up," Herd said.
Tom Martz, who due to his busy work schedule has not been able to attend City Council meetings as regularly as he has in the past, said when his seasonal work schedule begins to slow down he plans to start attending Council meetings more regularly again.
"Come about the middle of November, when my schedule slows down, then I will be back attending City Council meetings on a regular basis," Martz said. "I think it's irresponsible for people not to attend City Council meetings. Everything they do has an effect and an impact on what you do in your personal life."
One thing is certain, City manager Greg Burris will continue to have the ear and influence upon Springfield voters' elected representatives. He is a regular attendee of all meetings of the City Council, and it is his well paid job to continue to be a regular attendee. Burris' opinions will never be "diminished" because he repeatedly bends the ears of our elected representatives. Should your opinion be diminished because you regularly exercise your right to address your elected representative?
I'm just askin.'