Shared participation a must

William T. Robinson, Jr.

An open forum was held recently, presented by the North Nashville Neighborhood Associations. There were approximately 200 or more in attendance. It was well run and presented no operational problems. Many well known elected representatives and appointed officials were given an opportunity to  elaborate on their visions for  economic development, education and safety in the north Nashville  community. This collaboration to unite and empower the community was commendable and must continue.

However successful by some standards, there were many who were infuriated there was no question and answer segment for direct involvement from the audience. Many remarked this was just a podium for speakers with rehearsed political or self-promoting interests presenting scripted views. It was no secret that the questions presented were given to the presenters ahead of time. The questions were devised by the neighborhood associations in the north Nashville area, giving presenters plenty of time to come up with a well-scripted dialogue. Does this suggest that some officials could not adequately support or answer questions without ample time to come up with scripted answers?

No one was arguing that the questions were not relevant and significant. It was the exclusion of the community to  personally engage their own questions  that many considered unfair. In fact, several in attendance said they considered  it  disrespectful  and   insulting as stakeholders in the community to be  denied the right to ask questions from the floor. It was a slap in the face, and many found it anti-democratic and divisive.

How can you invite blue-collar workers with vested interests in their community and not offer them a  platform to personally ask questions they feel are relevant and necessary to truly understand their plight or concerns? Some saw this practice as a divisive tool. It gave a podium and visibility for a few to promote themselves as leaders and mask the real issues many feel have been played out in clandestine meeting  rooms with manipulative measures to mislead the public.

The mere fact that many were restricted from asking questions appeared suspect. If we are to come together as a community in the best interests of all involved, we cannot omit the voice of legitimate stakeholders in the community—regardless of how some of us may feel about each other.

The concept of all vested parties getting together and working in the best interests of the north Nashville community is commendable and a much needed venture to go forward. Nonetheless, you cannot leave some people out of the dialogue and realistically promote community unity and involvement. A question and answer segment is a much-needed part in any forum promoting unity, cooperation, and involvement. This is a pertinent and relevant ingredient that should not be left out of any forum or town meeting meant to unite and engage the community.