Rep. Tom Garrett offers more seats for March 31 town hall

University Democrats, Indivisible Charlottesville criticize Republican congressman over event logistics, ticket lottery system

nsgarretthallcourtesyuniversityofvirginia

The town hall will still be held in the Frank Batten School’s Garrett Hall and will hold 230 attendees.

Fifth Congressional District Rep. Tom Garrett’s (R-Va.) town hall scheduled for March 31 will now allow for 230 attendees, adding 95 more seats than previously announced. The town hall will still be held in Garrett Hall at the Batten School.

According to a March 21 release from Garrett’s office, 50 of the attendees will be Batten students. The remaining 180 seats will be awarded through a lottery system. In order to apply, one must verify their residence online and pick up their tickets in person at the University Arts Box Office on March 27.

The announcement to increase the size of the event came after Garrett received offers from Indivisible Charlottesville and the University Democrats to provide him with a larger space. Indivisible Charlottesville, a local group focused on “resisting the Trump agenda,” held a town hall for Garrett at Charlottesville High School last month. Over 1,000 people attended, but Garrett did not show.

This month, a University Democrats Facebook status offering Garrett the Chemistry Building auditorium reached over 450 likes.

Jackson Samples, a first-year College student and University Democrats outreach and development coordinator, said the group has also contacted Garrett via Twitter and his online portal, but has not received a response.

“When Tom Perriello held this seat in 2009, when the Affordable Care Act was being in the process of being passed, he held multiple town halls,” Samples said. “He would actually stay ‘til the very end of the town hall to make sure all of the audience’s personal questions were answered — so we expect the same kind of constituent outreach that Perriello offered from Garrett.”

Samples said another concern is the way questions will be introduced.

According the release, participants will be able to write down questions to be randomly chosen by moderators for the participants to ask Garrett directly. Samples said he thinks the event would be more productive if participants could simply ask Garrett questions themselves, without going through a moderator.

In response to the University Democrats’ offer, Andrew Griffin, deputy chief of staff and communications director for Garrett, said Garrett’s office believes the Batten venue will guarantee a safe and civil dialogue. Town hall events with Republican lawmakers around the country in recent weeks have been met with large crowds and angry protesters.

“We have aided the Batten School with anything they needed during this process, but ultimately, we are a guest at their event,” Griffin said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “They informed us they were working with local fire marshals to comply with fire code laws to safely raise the capacity and we were pleased they managed to successfully achieve this.”

While Indivisible Charlottesville spokesperson David Singerman is pleased with Garrett’s expansion, he said he believes there are still many issues with the event itself.

“We’re glad … that he’s responded to the pressure put on him by his constituents and by groups like Indivisible Charlottesville, but 1,200 people came to the high school [when Indivisible Charlottesville held a town hall for Garrett], so even 180 tickets for the public is really not sufficient,” Singerman said. “Another point is that you really shouldn’t have to enter and win a lottery in order to speak to your member of Congress. That’s a pretty basic fundamental right.”

Singerman said if Garrett held smaller, but more frequent town halls, then the needs of the community could be met. He also suggested there could be potential logistical issues for people seeking tickets to the event.

“To actually attend you have to pick up your tickets in person on U.Va. Grounds between 12 and 5 p.m. next week, and so that rules out a huge number of people who may not live in Charlottesville who may not be able to get off work,” Singerman said. “I haven’t seen anything about any alternative way of picking up tickets, and so that doesn’t seem like a very inclusive way to make sure that [a] diversity of voices is represented in there.”

Garrett’s town hall will be held March 31 at Garrett Hall starting at 6 p.m. 

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