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OFF the CUFF: Face time is part of representing us

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By Cheryl Duncan, Assistant Editor

Chuck Fleischmann says constituents won’t find his name on lists of U.S. Congressional members scheduling town hall meetings.

The Ooltewah Republican contends he’s not trying to duck contentious sessions that his fellow GOP lawmakers have faced in the months after a controversial Donald Trump rose to the presidency.

Nor, he said, is he avoiding discussions of hot-button topics like health-care reform, possible government shutdowns, immigration or gun control.

In fact, Roane County’s House representative on Capitol Hill is anxious to meet with you — if you make the first move.

“Contact our office,” he said when I asked him how folks in his 3rd Congressional District could have an audience with him.

Fleischmann and his staff encourage the public to write or call his office, and he promised a response.

He also welcomes folks to visit the office any time to air compliments or complaints.

I applaud his open-door policy. I’d give him a standing ovation if he’d go one better.

You and I deserve access to our Congressman via a true face-to-face town hall meeting.

I was privileged to have such an audience via my profession. Fleischmann swung by the Roane County News when visiting Roane County earlier this month.

“I am planning to run for re-election, God willing,” he told us. “And I look forward to that.”

But will he participate in forums and debates in the county? (He didn’t in 2016.)

“We haven’t made those policy decisions yet,” he said.

Our office was his second stop of the day. He had been in Rockwood earlier, with plans to have lunch at The Roane Alliance. That was followed by stops in Harriman and Oliver Springs.

You didn’t know? Neither did we.

Even after Fleischmann and his staff made us privy to his day’s plans, they refused to share times and locations.

We asked. More than once.

Numbers show the Congressman is popular in Roane County. He smoked his opponents in last year’s re-election bid, with almost 11,000 more votes than his closest competitor.

And unlike contentious sessions faced by Tennessee’s Diane Black and other GOP House members, Fleischmann said folks in Roane County are extremely enthusiastic and accommodating.

“I heard ‘thank you’ from a fire chief in Rockwood for a grant for a fire truck they got,” he said.

With such positive response, why not have a town hall meeting?

Well, Fleischmann said he has them — sort of.

The Congressman said he eschews the typical town-hall meeting in favor of what he termed “tele-town halls,” a practice he said he employed prior to Trump’s term.

Tele-town halls are virtual events which consist of Fleischmann discussing issues with constituents who are chosen at random and invited to participate.

Others are invited to listen in by calling and using a PIN the Congressman’s staff provides on his Facebook page. Apparently, the listeners can ask questions by pressing the “pound” key.

No mention of such an upcoming session is on his Facebook. Nor could he or his staff tell us if or when another would be planned.

We The People deserve an opportunity to look our member of Congress in the eye. On our turf.

Whether it’s an open meeting at city hall or a civic club’s candidate forum, Fleischmann and others need to remember that it’s called the House of Representatives, and they are there to represent us.

They cannot do that effectively if they refuse to meet with us in person.

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Cheryl Duncan is assistant editor of the Roane County News. She may be reached at 376-3481, Ext. 230, or cduncan@roanecounty.com.