LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Aug. 17 Grayson County commissioner's court meeting
Sitting in the recent Grayson County Commissioners Court session I was dumbfounded by a statement of one member of the court. It occurred after remarks made during the public comment portion of the meeting where one constituent admonished the Commissioners to consider their appeals to have a Texas Historical Marker placed on the Grayson Courthouse lawn which would record the events of 9 May 1930 (when the courthouse was burned down, a man was lynched, and the Sherman black business district was destroyed).
While commissioners are not permitted by Texas Open Meeting laws to comment upon things outside the official Agenda, the Commissioner elected to respond to this public speaker from earlier in the day. The public member stated it was the right thing to do in putting the request for a marker on the Commissioners Court Agenda. It was only at the end of the meeting, well after the public comment section, that the Commissioner’s response informed all in attendance that they do what the majority of their constituents tell them is on their minds and they will always represent the will of the majority. No direct linking to the earlier appeal for the marker to appear on the Commissioners’ Agenda was made, but the inference was not missed by anyone present.
In a democracy, of course, the majority rules. That’s all well and good for the majority, but what about the minority; don’t they have rights that deserve respect too? Of course they do. This is why a pure democracy won’t cut it. As Benjamin Franklin observed, a democracy is merely two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.
People often refer to the United States as a democracy, but technically speaking, it’s a republic. Big deal, you say? If you care about your rights, it is. The Founding Fathers knew their history well, so they felt it was better to not establish the U.S. as a pure democracy. Our Founders were determined to forestall the inherent dangers of what James Madison called in Federalist #10 “the tyranny of the majority.” They therefore constructed something more lasting: a republic, something with checks and balances. It is a system of government carefully balanced to safeguard the rights of both the majority and the minority. At the national level, these checks and balances included a government consisting of a bicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and an executive branch limited by oversight from both the other branches. How about at the local level?
Here’s where things get a bit tricky. National/State/and local rules dictate the process of government at the municipal and county levels; Texas Open Meetings Act is one example. However, even more than at the national level, the onus lays heavier on the elected officials to consider all the input from their constituents and then to determine what is the right decision to make for the whole county knowing it will go against the desires of some individuals—whether it be the minority, or the majority. An effective and virtuous representative democracy at the county level must have commissioners who deliberate over all inputs, majority and minority, and then determine what is the right, just, and fair action to take—for all concerned, and not just always side with the majority.
What the wolves want matters, but so does what the sheep wants. We just want to ensure no one winds up on the menu.
Kurt A. Cichowski, Denison