Ward explains comments

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, March 7, 2013

City Council voted during its Wednesday meeting to hold a public input session on the budget before a proposal is issued.

The motion by Councilman Charles Parr to set the meeting, tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 18 at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center on East Constance Road, looked like it would be a simple one.

But it became a 20-minute discussion after Councilman Lue Ward seemed to question the need for hearing from the citizens.

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“Are we willing to listen to the people that come in?” he asked. He added later: “The people don’t have no idea how the city works” and questioned whether there would enough attendance at such a meeting to make it worthwhile.

Ward ultimately voted in favor of scheduling the meeting and elaborated in a phone interview Thursday, saying he realized after his comments that they might be misconstrued.

Informal meetings for citizen input on the budget have been held in the past, but attendance is generally low — for both taxpayers and City Council members. Some of the members suggested their presence at the upcoming meeting, plus its neutral location, would foster more attendance.

Ward’s fellow council members disagreed that attendance would be low and asserted that the citizens need to be given a chance to speak.

“I think we need to hear from the folks that are paying the taxes and the folks that are receiving the services,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said during the meeting, adding later, “I think you’ll get the attendance. I really do.”

Councilman Roger Fawcett agreed that the meeting should be held, referring to anticipated low revenues and higher demands on the available money this year.

“We might have to make some tough choices here,” he said. “This is a good time for them to weigh in on those tough choices.”

On Thursday, Ward said he wants to hear from the taxpayers, adding that his Wednesday comments “maybe didn’t come out the way I wanted it to come out.”

“I want to make sure all the people’s voices are heard,” he said. “We’ll make sure all the comments are taken seriously. Anything that gives the people power or gives the people a chance to be heard, I’m with it.”