Controversy arises over Tom Garrett town hall seating

UDems offers larger space, congressman yet to respond

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Fifth District Congressman Tom Garrett (R-Va.)

An upcoming town hall with Fifth District Congressman Tom Garrett (R-Va.) scheduled for March 31 is currently set to take place in Garrett Hall, a venue that is part of the University’s Batten School and seats 135 people. After some constituents complained that restricting seating limits who can attend the town hall, the University Democrats responded by tagging Garrett in a Facebook post and offering him a larger venue — the Chemistry Building auditorium.

“We took the liberty of booking a much larger room on Grounds that seats three times as many people for the same day at the same time,” the post, date March 2, read. “Please let us know if you'd like to accept this offer of an additional 360 seats.”

The University Democrats say they haven’t received a response from Garrett’s office.

“Despite Mr. Garrett and his team using social media to reach out to others, we have received no response from his office,” third-year Curry student and University Democrats President Brett Curtis said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. “It remains cowardly and undemocratic to exclude so many from hearing directly from our congressional representative.”

Curtis said he thinks it’s part of Garrett’s job to hear from all of his constituents — something that a limited seating event would not allow.

“The political climate today and Mr. Garrett’s job description demand that he listen, understand and consider all of his constituents’ voices, not just those he wants to hear,” Curtis said.

The original distribution plan for town hall tickets was to give 45 to Batten School students, with priority for those who live in the 5th District, 45 to the local Republican committee and 45 to the local Democratic committee, according to a press release.

However, tickets will now be distributed through a lottery, the results of which will be released during the week of March 20, according to an announcement on Garrett’s Twitter page.

According to the announcement, the goal of this lottery is to “maximize inclusion, diversity, and convenience.”

Though some constituents are discontented with Garrett’s venue, others like third-year College student Ali Hiestand, chair of the College Republicans, do not see anything wrong with holding the town hall as it is.

“Town halls are being demanded of politicians all over the country,” Hiestand said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. “What we're seeing is that many attendees aren't looking to have a calm, rational, civil discussion of the issues, but rather yell at their elected officials and hopefully get a clip of said confrontation to send into local television stations.”

She also cited the fact that Garrett recently hosted two town halls online.

“Garrett has already held two lengthy town halls online where anyone was free to post questions, and groups like Indivisible Charlottesville were unsatisfied … probably because that robbed them of their chance to throw a fit in front of a camera,” Hiestand said. “Garrett's predecessor, Congressman Hurt, also never held an in-person town hall in six years of office.”

Indivisible Charlottesville — a group “dedicated to resisting the Trump agenda” — organized a town hall at Charlottesville High School Feb. 26 that attracted nearly 1,000 attendees. The event aimed to bring concerns to Garrett’s attention. However, Garrett did not attend the town hall. The group has been critical of the congressman on social media.

Hiestand said she has met Garrett personally and believes he is more than willing to meet with his constituents and engage in intellectual discussions to best serve those he represents.

“There's a big difference between that and using Congressman Garrett as a surrogate for their anger toward the Trump administration — because they refuse to face the inevitable fact that clearly their ideas don't resonate with the majority of the 5th District,” Hiestand said.

Garrett is planning another town hall for May 9 in Moneta, Va.

Garrett’s office did not respond to requests for comment by press time.  

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