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Garrett must open up town halls

Planned ticketed event will not meet constituents’ demand

<p>Town hall attendees packed the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon.&nbsp;</p>

Town hall attendees packed the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon. 

Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Va., plans to hold a closed town hall meeting in Garrett Hall on March 31. The event’s 135 tickets will be distributed via a lottery system, after an earlier announcement they would be evenly dispersed among Batten School students and the local Democratic and Republican committees. Garrett’s constituents have repeatedly called for an open town hall meeting, a request which the congressman’s current plan disregards. To ensure transparency and accurate representation of voters’ concerns, the town hall must be open to the public in a large venue with no tickets.

Garrett has held two Facebook Live events since taking office, attracting a combined total of over 25,000 views and 8,000 comments. In addition, an independently-organized town hall last month drew at least 1,000 people, though Garrett did not attend. These numbers clearly demonstrate the widespread demand for an open town hall. With only 135 tickets available for the upcoming town hall, Garrett unnecessarily limits the input he can receive from constituents.

After the initial announcement, the Charlottesville Democratic Party declined to help distribute tickets, stating they did not receive advance notice about the plan. The University Democrats offered Garrett an alternative venue on Grounds with room for 495 people, but no venue change took place. The congressman will not release even the most basic information about the ticket lottery, such as the organization in charge, until March 20. While Garrett claims the lottery will “maximize inclusion, diversity and convenience,” the lack of transparency surrounding the planned town hall speaks to the contrary.

Garrett recently appeared on NPR and Fox News to discuss the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, a topic which has been a point of contention at town hall meetings around the country. Garrett should not take such a prominent stance while actively avoiding potential confrontations with voters on this issue. Garrett must take into account the concerns of all his constituents — even those who voted for another candidate. An open and transparent town hall meeting is the best way to accomplish this.

Garrett recently remarked that even one live town hall would be more than his predecessor held in six years — as if such a minimal attempt at outreach should satisfy constituents. With the availability of a much larger space and clear demand for an open meeting, Garrett has no excuse to hold a small, closed event. People have a right to hold their representatives accountable, and Garrett has a responsibility to hold an open meeting at an appropriate venue.