Thursday, December 17, 2009

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence

Recently, I was accused of making light of various Richardson residents' concerns expressed during the "visitors" section of City Council meetings. (By the way, the speakers are quaintly called "visitors," a descriptive term only if, at your house or office or event, visitors typically come and yell at you for five minutes before you shoo them away.) After the jump, where my critic says I erred.

My critic tells me that two of the visitors

"were talking about letting the taxpayers know what went on during the illegal executive sessions before the charter changes. Also, Bonnie was talking about the illegal lobbying by the city council members for the charter changes."

He significantly omits the word "alleged" before illegal in both instances. That's what the court hearing is all about, determining the law in this case. Until the courts have found someone guilty of something, anything, it's best to quit tacking on adjectives like illegal, unlawful, criminal, etc., as if they are proven facts. Doing so casts doubt on the rest of your argument. It's just bad practice.

Curiously, not only did my critic object that I made light of these visitors' concerns, he pointed out his own concern that I had failed to make light of. This blog corrects that oversight. He is concerned with "the city taking taxpayer dollars to pay a lobbyist to lobby against taxpayers, arguing for higher taxes and bigger government." This charge is packed with assumed facts not in evidence. In fact, the city lobbied state government for local control over local taxation and against the state setting the rules for how local taxation is decided. Some consider that A Good Thing™, good for Richardson, good for Richardson taxpayers. Reasonable people can have different positions on this. But admitting that isn't as viscerally satisfying as charging as fact, not opinion, that the city is using taxpayer dollars to lobby against taxpayers. Who couldn't get riled up when it's put that way?

Distorting opposing viewpoints may or may not be good politics, but it does not promote reasoned dialog or good government. There are a few nuggets of gold that turn up Monday nights, but mostly the visitors' section of the city council meeting just makes for rollicking good theater. And if you watch from home (Time Warner cable channel 16) you can even pop some corn.

(Update: Upon reflection, I've decided the headline is misleading. The facts of this "open meetings" lawsuit aren't what's in dispute. The interpretation of the law is. Armchair lawyers may think otherwise.)

No comments: