The peasants have been deemed too vocal in Houston County, the Caledonia Argus' Daniel E. McGonigle reports in Public comment period at county board now to be held at end of first meeting of the month only:
At Houston County board meetings, the public comment portion will now be three minutes long… at the end of the meeting… once per month.
After discussion, the Houston County commissioners voted to hold public comment period at the end of the meeting of their first meeting of the month and extend to three minutes to allow speakers more time to make their point.
However, the public were none too happy of the decision. . . .
An increasingly frustrated public, while not surprised by the move, then spent much of their “public comment, comments,” this being the last such opportunity to speak until the beginning of December, to blast the commissioners for once again attempting to silence the masses.
You may recall at one point the county board stopped holding a public comment period all together.
After public outrage over that choice, the county board brought the pubic comment period back, this time reading a prepared statement by their attorney prior to each public comment period.
“My concern is you don’t know when a meeting is going to end,” commissioner Dana Kjome said, a point Stanage would later reiterate. “You know the meetings are going to start at 9 a.m., you can plan a little better and people might not want to sit here for an entire meeting just to address the board.”
The commissioners voted to move the public comment period much to the dismay of its public.
At least Houston County residents aren't in the position of the citizens of Minneapolis. MinnPost's Peter Callaghan reports in In wake of police shooting, a split among Minneapolis council members:
Tension over the shooting of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer spilled over into a meeting of the 13-member city council Friday, spurred by a brief protest by longtime anti-police-brutality activists. . . .
Council members and city staff seemed prepared for the protest, however. Council President Barbara Johnson immediately told Gross there was no public testimony taken at regular meetings, read the rule and asked security guards, who were there in greater numbers than usual, to remove Gross. Two other protesters took to the podium in sequence and were also removed.
Friday’s protest at the meeting pointed out what some view as a gap in council rules. Unlike some other local governments, Minneapolis’ council does not provide any opportunity for residents to speak on general topics. Testimony is taken at committee meetings, but only on the matters before that committee. Its rules can be suspended to allow the public to address the council — something it did Wednesday for testimony on the city budget — but that procedure is rarely followed.
Both the Minneapolis Board of Education and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board have public forums during its regular meetings that allow residents to speak on any topic. Gordon was asked by a reporter after Friday’s meeting why residents shouldn’t have expected the council to discuss the killing of Clark. Gordon said that the every-other-week regular meeting is mostly to approve the work of the committees. But he said he would support a change to council rules to provide for a public forum. . . .
One citizen has spoken up in a letter, Judy Storlie convinces County Board to further stifle democracy in Houston County:
At the Nov. 10 meeting Judy Storlie presented a proposal to further limit public input at County Commissioner meetings. Instead of the current weekly comment period she proposed a once per month comment period. Instead of having it at the beginning of the meeting she proposed moving it to the end of the meeting. So now we will not know what time it will occur because meetings vary from ½ hour to 2 and ½ hours. The County Board approved this measure which further limits public input and makes it harder for citizens to have their voice heard.
In a truly open and transparent government the elected officials would want to have public input. So what are some of the Commissioners afraid of? Is it that some of the comments are too close to the truth? Are they getting some feedback they don’t want to hear? Is it a democracy when elected officials don’t want to hear from the public or are afraid of the accountability that comes from open dialogue? Would citizens be less frustrated if they felt they were being heard?
Is this the democratic government we aspire toward?
Perhaps the Houston County Board would rather have mass protests and occupations--as are happening in Minneapolis--than members of the public speaking at meetings.
Citizens in Houston County have been demanding that the local government adopt new ordinances dealing with the regulation of frac sand mining. Concerns about mining are not remotely as dire as the fate of the young black man black whose fate gave rise to the 4th Precinct Shut Down protests, but both situations illustrate that citizens will find a way to raise their voices, however little their government officials might want to hear them--or how uncomfortable the questions raised might be.
Image: A still from the Simpsons
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