FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Not long after Rep. Rob Woodall visited Lambert High School Feb. 23 to talk to students about government, many of his constituents were left wondering why he won’t hold in-person town halls with them.
Woodall, whose district covers portions of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, has been holding telephone town halls. A check of his Facebook page shows many constituents are not pleased with his chosen forum and would prefer a face-to-face talk. Virtually every entry the congressman posts, someone responds with a request for an in-person town hall meeting.
One of those voters, Angela Sullivan Johnson, said if the congressman has time to visit the school, then he could make time for an in-person town hall.
“There are some very important issues facing our nation, including immigration, tax, education and healthcare reform,” she said. “It is more important now than ever to engage in-person with your constituents, not just who voted for you, to show them their voices are being heard.”
However, Woodall’s camp doesn’t see an issue.
“We’re always looking to utilize the most effective ways to serve the district as a whole, and that varies with lots of scheduling factors,” said Martin Wattenbarger, Woodall’s communications director. “In recent years, that has included more in-person town hall meetings than any other member of Congress from Georgia – and more than roughly 94 percent of all members in the entire House since 2013.”
While his constituents wonder why Woodall won’t talk to them in person, he said he tries to get into high schools as often as he can because it is where “the next generation of America’s leaders live,” with Lambert at the top of the list across the county.
He told the students that change in the nation doesn’t start in D.C., but in communities such as Forsyth County and Lambert. He also said to hold each other accountable if they want to stop racism or other types of bigotry.
Often, when he talks in public, Woodall said he sees angry voters. With this group of students, they don’t care about being angry, but making a difference in each other’s lives, he said.
“If we were having a town hall meeting here, someone from the right would be mad and would have a speech they’d want to give, and same for the left,” Woodall said. “They may not want to fix anything, but they want to express their anger. In this group, with these questions, we saw folks who just want to fix stuff. They see problems in their communities, country and world and they just want to be a part of making it better.”
He said he gives different messages to different groups of people but still tries to stay true to his positions.
“But it is authenticity that young people crave. They’ll see right through you if you’re sharing one message here and another somewhere else,” Woodall said. “We’re absolutely trying to talk about the same themes here as we would at a Rotary Club.”
The county is “blessed to have so much talent around” with the students, he said.
“It makes me a more effective leader in Washington, D.C. to tell the story of people back home, not (those) who are complaining to one another and blaming one another,” Woodall said. “But instead, it’s about folks who are working together to make a difference in the community. There’s a reason folks keep coming on into Forsyth County. We have a wonderful community and it was on full display this morning.”
Woodall isn’t the only elected official being criticized for a lack of in-person meetings. Across the nation, constituents are speaking out and asking for meetings.
State Sen. John Albers, whose district covers a portion of north Fulton County, was recently chastised when he rescheduled an in-person town hall, opting instead to host a Facebook live video.
Albers said he was planning to host an in-person town hall with state Sen. Brandon Beach Feb. 18, but they “got their signals crossed” with the Fulton County GOP which was having a meeting at the same time.
Potential protest demonstrations have no connection to the cancelation, Albers said.
“I do hope that people will genuinely want to be a part of the solution and come forward with ideas,” Albers said. “Just protesting for protesting sake accomplishes nothing. People in general in society these days often times are quick to constantly be negative and criticize. They want to talk about problems but not actually be creative in solutions.”
Beach said they were now working to set up an in-person event later.