Sunday, April 15, 2018
Lioneld Jordan has been mayor of Fayetteville for more than eight years now and, like anyone else in a position of leadership, has his fans and critics. But there are at least a few characteristics about the man nobody familiar with him would try to dispute.
He shows up everywhere.
What’s the point?
Becoming a city of inclusion does not require dismantling expectations that appointees be citizens and registered voters.
He's been known once or twice (or 2 million times) to say "I love this city."
And his interactions with his constituents do not appear to be affected by whether a person is black, white or brown; gay, straight or transgender; conservative, liberal or somewhere in between; rich, poor or middle income; or any other qualities beyond honesty, decency and how one treats other people.
The government Jordan leads has generally taken a similar come one/come all tack, at times causing some consternation among some who would prefer, shall we say, more definite boundaries. A municipal civil rights ordinance designed to offer protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and other characteristics, for example, has been attacked by conservative state lawmakers who want to prevent cities from adopting anti-discrimination measures that go beyond state law. The state itself has challenged the measure in an ongoing court case.
But in Fayetteville itself, the attitude for several years has been a welcoming one.
So who knew Fayetteville couldn't really be a welcoming community until the City Council adopted a "welcoming plan" designed as an "intentional" effort to make sure "new Americans" feel at home within the city's borders? For people who tend to believe government is the solution to every issue, nothing is reality until there's an approved government plan in place.
Who's a new American? Fayetteville's new plan doesn't deliver a definition, but it appears to describe the plan's primary focus on making any foreign-born person feel included and welcome. Its focus is to increase "integration and inclusion" when "new Americans arrive in our city." And yes, the plan anticipates creating that environment for any and all. City employees behind the plan say citizenship or legal status have nothing to do with it.
Imagine the heads exploding in the state Legislature at that notion. One gets the feeling Fayetteville's plan would be much stronger -- sanctuary city, anyone? -- if it wasn't one of the state's few liberal outliers. Indeed, early drafts of the plan included stronger language than the one ultimately adopted by the City Council.
Cities aren't and shouldn't attempt to be an enforcement agency for federal immigration laws, but we're glad Fayetteville's plan stops short of creating a California-like sanctuary city.
Who can really argue with the concept of a welcoming city in general? Anyone who crosses the city limits deserves to be treated fairly and, as long as they're not committing any harm, ought to be considered by municipal government as valued residents or visitors who have something to contribute. Fayetteville's municipal government hasn't in recent memory given anyone a reason to believe it would behave otherwise.
The attitude and act of welcoming do not require one to toss aside every standard, practice or behavior that creates distinctions. If that were the case, all those parades on Dickson Street celebrating diversity would be given up in the name of homogeneity. Instead, a welcoming community recognizes differences and even celebrates them.
In our view, U.S. citizenship matters a great deal when it comes to decision-making by our government representatives. When it comes to appointments to panels that wield heavy influence or make decisions on behalf of our communities, being a registered voter is a significant indicator of civic participation and should be revered as such.
In the coming months, that issue will apparently become a matter of debate, as Fayetteville's welcoming plan anticipates the potential removal of the city's longtime expectation that appointments to city boards and commissions should be made from among registered voters.
"The City will explore ways to enable new Americans to participate in boards, committees, and commissions by removing barriers they face related to citizenship requirements," the plan says. "Currently, Fayetteville City Code § 33.329 restricts appointments to 'registered voters within the corporate limits of Fayetteville.' To be a registered voter, an individual must be a U.S. citizen. This restricts visa or green card holders who may have expertise in a certain field and care about the future of Fayetteville."
Do those visa or green card holders need to be appointed to bring their cares and concerns forward? We don't think so.
It won't be the first time for the debate over this. In 2001, Alderman Cyrus Young proposed removing the registered voter requirement, leading to an intense debate.
"It seems paradoxical to me to open up the committees and commissions to people who are making it a point not to vote," then-Mayor Dan Coody said. Bobby Ferrell, who eventually would serve on the City Council, urged its members to preserve the linkage between appointments and registration as voters.
"People serving on boards and commissions are an extension of the elected officials who appointed them," Ferrell said. "It sounds like a good citizenship 101 deal."
At the time, the City Council voted 7-1 against Young's idea. In 2018, who knows?
The question back then involved American citizens who either did or did not register. It was never about appointment of non-citizens. But that's what the 2018 debate will be about.
The city of Fayetteville has a lot of city-created "advisory" boards, which means they have no final decision-making authority. The welcoming plan assumes reserving those panels for registered voters -- U.S. citizens -- is a barrier to Fayetteville's desire to embrace all people -- the new Americans -- and their diversity.
It hasn't been so far. Any and all who want to bring ideas to the table can do so. We've never once heard anyone say "Are you a citizen? No? Then sit down and shut up." To suggest this standard makes anyone unwelcome is a stretch.
Advisory boards are wholly creations of the city. They only offer advice, which can be followed or not. So is it a big deal to preserve the registered voter requirement for them? Probably not. If a non-citizen has a good idea about economic development or the operation of recreational programs or how city services can be improved, who cares whether that idea came from a U.S. citizen or someone else? Good advice is good advice.
But on decision-making bodies such as the Planning Commission, the Civil Service Commission, the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the like, being a registered voter ought to remain an expectation. The City Council should set a minimum expectation of civic responsibility that should include participation through voter registration. It's likely appointing non-citizens to such panels is highly questionable from a legal perspective.
It goes too far to suggest Fayetteville can't be a welcoming place without opening up the mechanisms of government to everyone who crosses into the city limits. Government can achieve that by listening intently to anyone offering good ideas. No harm comes from that and it may actually lead to improvements.
But does citizenship matter? It does and it should.
Commentary on 04/15/2018
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