Ron Kitchen says he went to Monday night's City Council meeting to suggest ways to make the city a better place. Hours later, after being verbally dressed down by the mayor for being negative, a frustrated Kitchen said the city leaders only want to hear praise.
After listening to Kitchen, Mayor Curtis Rich did not address the specific suggestions but focused on Kitchen's attitude. He said he travels in circles of people who are much more positive than Kitchen.
Kitchen bristled at the comment. He told Rich that that sort of comment was exactly why people do not speak their minds at council meetings.
"I was just trying to say, let's look down the road at these issues, and he tells me not only am I negative, but everyone I'm associated with is a negative person," Kitchen said Tuesday.
"Last night was just a prime example of the problem," Kitchen said. "They say they want public input, but when you say anything to the city, if you don't agree with them, then you're perceived as being negative, being pessimistic."
Kitchen lost to Rich in the last mayor's race. Although he will not rule out running for office again, Kitchen said he came to Monday night's meeting not for political reasons but to speak for the many city residents who do not feel comfortable coming to council meetings because of the way they believe they will be treated.
"Eric Ross came in to talk about an issue important to him, and he was ridiculed, maligned and beat on unmercifully," Kitchen said referring to the last time the local dentist tried to talk to the council about the fluoride issue.
Rich and council member Levi Phillips are adamantly opposed to the city's effort to fluoridate the water supply, which has been spearheaded by Ross.
In past meetings, they have interrupted Ross, questioned his credentials and asked him about his interest in the issue when he does not live or work in the city.
Kitchen on Monday urged the council to think more like a business, to involve business people in making decisions and to look at the big picture.
He also urged the council to rely less on volunteers to do basic city functions such as maintaining city property and to consider requiring city officials to live inside the city.
When Kitchen talked about operating more like a business, Phillips responded that the city cannot operate like a private business.
Phillips said the city should rely on volunteers, but Kitchen argued those jobs should be paid for through the city budget because they are city functions.
City Manager Roger Krieger told Kitchen that he welcomes suggestions to make things better, but he noted that the constraints a government faces are not at all like the rules that govern businesses.
Kitchen told the council that the reason residents did not want to speak up is because they perceive that the council members already have made up their mind on various issues and will not listen anyway.
"Don't say that you want the public input and then beat them up when they come give it," he said.