STAMAN: Allow for transparency | Opinion


We want our politicians, at the national, state and local levels to be honest and transparent. However, we have become very jaded.

At the state and national level, we have come to expect our leaders to dance around tough questions. The true politicians seem to be able to answer without really answering the question.

Unfortunately, this dance is also becoming too common among our local city council members.

So when local politicians forget the dance and are honest and transparent, we are taken back.

In Gering, we saw council members from Ward IV recently ignore the dance and speak openly and honestly about a proposed rezoning of a longtime vacant lot not far from the golf course.

A local business leader would like to build a new restaurant on the corner of Five Rocks Road and Country Club Road. The lot has been home for cattle, now it could become a place where you can enjoy a rib-eye steak.

Like most rezoning requests, this one has some naysayers.

Not too long ago naysayers on the east side of Gering objected to a proposal to rezone land adjacent to a residential area so a wrecking company could build next door. The city council rezoned the area.

Now the question involves a restaurant and local naysayers on the west side of Gering.

So Ward IV council members Troy Cowan and Phillip Holliday answered questions during an event billed as a “Community Conversation.” They are a series of town hall meetings planned for each ward.

It was a true conversation with debate and discussion going both ways.

Cowan and Holliday didn’t follow the dance steps. Instead, when asked their opinions on the rezoning, they shared them. They were transparent, something we long for from all our politicians.

However, at the last Gering City Council meeting, they found themselves in trouble, according to the city attorney.

The Gering city attorney said, “When it comes to land use issues where they’re interpreting current existing law, they’re sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity as if they were judges.”

As a result they should, in his view, recuse themselves from voting on the rezoning issue.

Are you kidding?!

I’m no lawyer, but can this interpretation of the law be right? If it is, the law needs to be changed and Gering should lead the charge.

These council members shared their thoughts on an important issue with the people who elected them to be their representatives. If the council person saw this issue differently after the Community Conversation, constituents now have time to get in touch with them to try and change their minds. If they agree, constituents should thank them and encourage them to stand firm.

Honest and transparent politics at work.

Both Cowan and Holliday say they will let the rest of the council make the call as to whether or not they should recuse themselves.

Hopefully, their fellow council representatives will allow Cowan and Holliday’s voices and votes to be heard. To silence them will silence an entire ward. That’s like saying to every resident in Ward IV, “Your opinion doesn’t matter.”

To silence Cowan and Holliday will also end the Community Conversations. If my representative cannot be transparent on tough rezoning issues, why should they be transparent on other issues? They are not only judges on rezoning, but on every decision coming before the council.

These representatives were elected by the citizens in their Ward to act as judges on our behalf. In that role they should regularly meet with the citizens they represent, listen, share and then vote accordingly. If they have to do the political dance, keeping their views to themselves until the vote, that fosters ruling behind closed doors.

If we are going to do that, what’s next? Allowing our elected officials to meet before the official meeting in small groups? They could debate the issues, decide on the issues, avoid ugly headlines, nasty columnists and speed through the official meeting. As long as a quorum isn’t met, it would be legal.

There are a lot of things that are legal in politics, but not ethical and transparent.

Gering’s Community Conversations are important. They need to continue and be attended. It is also very important for the representatives to forget the typical political dance and be honest and transparent, just like Cowan and Holliday.

We get enough of the dance at the state and national level. We the voters, the taxpayers, deserve something better at the local level.

What do you think? If you agree or disagree, you need to contact every other Gering council representative and the mayor. The decision on their voting and the rezoning will take place at the next Gering City Council meeting at 6 p.m., Monday, May 22.

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