Attendance is part of responsibility

Published 6:46 pm Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, a couple dozen high school students gathered in Rooster Hall to watch our city’s government in action. What they bore witness two was an embarrassment.

YOUth LEAD is a group of local students – generally 20-25 – chosen through an application process from Demopolis and John Essex High Schools.

The students spend several weeks in classes learning about a variety of topics including local and state economics, social issues and local and state government.

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Thursday, their local government let them down.

With more than four handfuls of children in attendance, half of the Demopolis City Council failed to attend the meeting. All those students witnessed was a prayer from Mickey Green, the Pledge of Allegiance and Mayor Mike Grayson hopelessly stalling for 10 minutes.

Grayson, Bill Meador and Jack Cooley did their best damage control by speaking directly with the students and fielding questions for about 45 minutes after the failed meeting.

By night’s end, the students likely left with a good understanding of city government and a first-hand account of how dysfunctional it can be.

These high school children have shown the initiative to take an interest in something other than XBox and Facebook. They’ve stepped out on a limb, giving what time they have after school to enrich themselves and better prepare themselves to develop into the leaders of our future.

Councilman Cooley gave the group a hearty pat on the back for the time and effort they put into the character education program. Cooley, who said he once questioned the city’s financial support of the program, has since become one of it’s most ardent supporters.

So much so that the council actually increased the funding allocated to the program.

Councilman Thomas Moore gave advance notice that he’d been called away and would be unable to attend the meeting, thus making the attendance of councilmen Melvin Yelverton and Mitchell Congress even more important.

Shortly after 5:15 p.m. Thursday – after the prayer and the Pledge – three chairs around the table sat empty while the chairs in the “gallery” were mostly full.

I tried to reach Councilman Yelverton on his cell phone and via email Friday, and Councilman Congress at his home. Councilman Congress said he was ill, and had been for several days. That absence is understandable.

I was unable to reach councilman Yelverton but Mr. Congress said he was working out of town, driving a truck. I can understand that absence as well.

But in 2012, with such a variety of communication methods, it’s too easy to call (cell or landline), text, email, tweet and/or Facebook to do none of the above. With enough advance notice, the YOUthLEAD visit – or maybe even the meeting itself – could have been rescheduled.

That stream of communication didn’t take place and as a result, a lot of business went undone Thursday night. There were some board appointments that weren’t made.

A local business seeking approval for a beer and wine permit was put on hold. That’s at least two weeks of lost revenue for them. I’m sure they don’t appreciate that. How can we encourage small business development when we won’t expedite and facilitate it?

Citizens like Don Singleton, who are there week-after-week out of their concern for their community, probably don’t appreciate it either.

They took time away from their families to attend the meeting only to turn around and come home.

But let’s forget about them. They’re adults. They understand. They may not like it, but they get it.

What about the students who made the effort to care when that’s not the easiest thing to do these days?

I can only offer a personal apology to the students and their parents.

I also apologize to Catherine Meador and Kayte Melton, who devote so much of their personal time to YOUthLEAD and who were with the students Thursday night.

I’ve covered municipal government for nearly 10 years and I’ve never had a meeting – in any city and county in which I have worked – called and not convene for lack of attendance. So, this is far from the norm. My hope is that the events of Thursday are an aberration of what is to come from our council, and that the students whom we disappointed will understand and forgive.

Jason Cannon is the publisher of the Demopolis Times