Give democracy an audience


    Dr. Johnathon Ross speaks before Toledo City Council during a Democracy Day event. From left are Councilwoman Yvonne Harper, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Council Member Nick Komives, Clerk of Council Gerald Dendinger and Councilman Tyrone Riley.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • The citizens of Toledo voted to create Democracy Day — one day a year devoted to their opportunity to speak to their elected officials. So on that one day a year, the least Toledo’s elected officials can do is show up to hear them.

    The quirky democratic ritual was created at the ballot box in 2016 when the city’s voters approved an ordinance mandating Toledo to hold an annual public hearing each March, during which citizens may speak or submit written testimony.

    RELATED: Democracy Day gives citizens forum to ask for change

    The mayor is required to send letters summarizing the testimony to Toledo’s representatives in Congress and the Ohio General Assembly.

    This year, the 20 or so citizens who showed up at Government Center wanted to talk about health care reform, prison reform, and affordable housing, among other issues.

    The Toledoans exercising their democratic freedoms, however, did not have much of an audience. Only three of the city’s 12 council members — Nick Komives, Yvonne Harper, and Tyrone Riley — showed up to listen.

    Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz also attended, though he came late after attending a “listening session” regarding the city’s inspection department.

    City leaders may argue that they have plenty of opportunities to hear from constituents. City council meetings allow for public comment. Council members attend public hearings on specific bills and proposals all the time, just as Mr. Kapszukiewicz did before arriving at the Democracy Day event.

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    But Democracy Day is different than those public comment opportunities because Democracy Day is something the constituents created themselves by popular vote. It is an event created by citizens for themselves at which they should be able to expect elected leaders to hear what is on their minds.

    One would think the event would be a welcome opportunity for elected officials to gladhand civic-minded Toledoans, if not pick up a new idea or two. The group that wrote the ballot measure to create Democracy Day must not have anticipated it would need to compel attendance.

    But the Democracy Day creators should not have had to do that. If the voters of your city establish a special day just to speak their minds to elected leaders, the leaders ought to know enough to show up and hear them out.

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