Palestine City Council members should show enough deference to the public they serve to stop texting during council meetings.
It's rude. It's arrogant. It's disrespectful.
The practice, documented in a front-page story Tuesday (“Text mess: council members called out for inattention”), is especially egregious when residents are speaking during the public comment period.
Going before this esteemed body is a big moment for some people. In taking the trouble to express their views to the seven-member council, they are exercising a rudimentary right and responsibility of citizenship in a democratic society. They are pointing out and explaining local problems, such as illegal dumping, irregularities in code enforcement, and the lack of affordable housing.
For them to see council members, heads down and fidgeting with their phones, must be discouraging and disheartening.
To their credit, council members Joe Baxter and Ann Connor turn off their phones during meetings. Residents at the podium “deserve to have our attention,” Connor told the Herald-Press. Baxter said he likes to “look a person speaking at a council meeting in the eye.”
Among the rest of the council, Mitchell Jordan and Mayor Steve Presley might be the biggest transgressors.
Jordan and Presley acknowledge they text during meetings, but also say they use their smart phones for council-related business: Jordan might be surfing for past council decisions, for instance. Presley might be navigating the digital agenda.
Then again, council members could be texting each other information they should, under public information laws, state openly.
“How do you know what I'm looking at?” Presley asked the Herald-Press editorial page.
That's a fair question. If reporters, however, can't tell what Presley is doing, neither can the public.
Whether Presley is zipping through the council packet, or texting his wife to pick up a pizza, he's signaling – albeit unintentionally – that other people aren't worth his undivided attention.
Council members needing additional information should ask the city secretary for it. That's part of her job. She could also notify a council member if a family emergency arises.
Despite its ubiquitous use, and abuse, cell phone texting is banned in certain circumstances – while driving, in courtrooms, and during flights, for instance. Every day, thousands of corrections officers who work inside Texas prisons go without their cells for entire shifts. Somehow, they manage to get through it.
So could council members, while also showing their constituents, and their responsibilities to them, more respect.
Just put the dang phones down.