Anna councilman uses COVID experience to call for civility

By Joshua Baethge
Anna-Melissa Tribune
Anna City Councilman Lee Miller address the audience during the Dec. 8 City Council meeting.

Last month Anna Mayor pro tem Lee Miller and other members of his family were diagnosed with COVID-19.  For two days, he says he could barely do anything.  It was akin to a really bad case of the flu. 

By the third day, things were looking better. Before long he was fine and ready to get back to work.

During the time he was sick and quarantined he received scores of messages from neighbors.  Many sent get-well wishes, prayers and offers to help.  However, not everyone was sending positive vibes. Instead many people wrote to say he got was he deserved.

Earlier this year, Miller led the charge by the Anna City Council to send a letter to Governor Greg Abbott asking him to rescind his statewide mask mandate.

“It’s not that I’m against them personally. It’s just that I think it’s all about your own choice,” he said. 

He spoke about his coronavirus experience during the Dec. 8 council meeting.  But he didn’t speak from the dais.  Instead, he chose to talk from the podium where residents are allowed to make public comments.  Part of the reason was because the way the meeting was configured that evening as Sue Rattan Elementary School made it more difficult to face the audience. Another more important reason for him was that he wanted to talk as an Anna neighbor, not as a government representative. 

Miller admits that he doesn't love public speaking. However, he felt his experience was an example of divisive national partisan politics affecting local government. It’s something sees as the cause of most of society’s problems today. As he puts it, the city doesn’t have Democratic Parks or Republican potholes.  Addressing issues like helping businesses or fixing roads should not be political.

Anna City Councilman Lee Miller address the audience during the Dec. 8 City Council meeting.

“Politics uses to be fought in the arena of ideas where the best won,” he said in his address. “Now it’s fought on Facebook with memes.”

Miller concluded for his remarks by stating his name and address like all speakers do. He said that instead of taking pictures of his home for social media ridicule, neighbors should knock on his door and discuss the issues over coffee or a beer because “that’s what adults do.”

When councilman John Beazley officially steps down in January, Miller will become the longest-tenured member of the Anna City Council.  He’s served there since 2016 and has been involved with the city government for nearly a decade.  He says that the recent council election was the ugliest local races he's seen during that time.  He chalks some of that up the fact that the pandemic postponed the May council election, putting it on the same ballot as the presidential contest.  This brought more attention to the local race than normal.  Still, he doesn’t think that’s the only reason.

The pandemic has forced the Council to make many decisions they never could have imagined a year ago.  When COVID-19 first hit in the spring, city leaders were very proactive in their response.  As the months waned on, he says more information came to light about the effects of the shutdown on mental health, domestic violence, student achievement and local businesses. That left the council, with limited authority compared to state and national officials, faced with many challenging decisions.  He says he tries his best to listen to all points of view.

Anna City Councilman Lee Miller address the audience during the Dec. 8 City Council meeting.

“One of the most valuable things I was told when I first ran for office was that you have to hear the loudest voice, but listen to the softest one,” he said. 

And while this year has been challenging for everyone, he hopes that the end of election season coupled with the holidays and new hope for combatting COVID-19 will make 2021 a better year.  From a leadership perspective, he says the council should work to change the narrative and find more ways to conducts town hall-style events, maybe even virtual ones, to help more people understand the other side of the issues. At the end of the day, he believes it takes compromise to move beyond some of the divisions that affect the city and the nation today. 

“I want people to understand that we’re all neighbors up here,” he said referring to him and the council “I’m a father of five grown kids and I have stuff going on too.  We’re all in this together and we’re trying to do the right things.”