Public forums need public meeting sites

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2008

The issue: A public meeting called by some Selma City Council members to talk about issues.

Our position: Public meetings are good to air out concerns, but need to be held in public buildings.

Four members of the Selma City Council have planned a meeting Tuesday for questions and answers. They plan to meet at 7 p.m. at New Hope Apostolic Church, 718 Franklin St., Selma.

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The flier faxed from Councilwoman Jannie Venter says many issues face our city and county and citizens of each of Wards 5,6,7 and 8 want to meet with citizens and address concerns those citizens might have concerning the city of Selma.

Present at the event will be Mayor James Perkins Jr. and representatives from various city departments, including code enforcement, public works, police, fire, planning & development and community outreach.

The council members should receive applause for opening up forums to the people. Indeed, communities with neighborhood groups that meet at least once a month seem stronger than those without.

Generally, those meetings occur in some kind of public building, such as a park&8217;s meetinghouse or a library or even City Hall.

This meeting occurs at a church. Churches are good gathering places, and, in civil rights history, have been safe havens for agents of social change.

But more recently, the Internal Revenue Service has turned its attention toward churches because they enjoy a tax-free status and many pastors have used their pulpits to promote political agendas.

This is a year of elections &8212; presidential primary, Selma bond issue, Selma municipal and Alabama judicial. This heightened awareness by the IRS of churches and political activity comes at a time with both Democrats and Republicans in the presidential election are using churches as a way to reach voters.

A bulletin published by the IRS explicitly states that all tax-exempt organizations, including churches and religious organizations are &8220;absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public offices. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.&8221;

Because this is an election year, and because the IRS is looking so closely at church activity in politics because of the use of churches in presidential elections, it seems a meeting of combined wards with a mayor who is seeking re-election and council members who surely will seek re-election would be better suited for City Hall or some other forum.

After all, appearances mean a great deal during an election year.