Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Assault on Public Comments

The following comment was posted online in The Leader in response to an article that appeared only in the print edition of that newspaper (a scan of that article is here):

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Article comment by: Tom Thiersch

Did anyone actually read Mr. Yount's "Perspective"? His assertion that, "The record shows that the minutes used by these individuals equals five months of the allotted time for testimony", is such utter nonsense that it negates the rest of his argument.

There are, at most, 48 meetings of the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) each year. The actual number is usually 46 or 47 because of holiday cancellations. The Public Comment period is "up to 30 minutes" per meeting. 48 times 30 = 1440 minutes = 24 hours, which is hardly the same as "five months". Do the arithmetic!

Additionally, unlike official Hearings where speakers are obligated to speak truthfully and are required to identify themselves for the official record of proceedings, the Public Comments are not "testimony" but are simply the opinions of the speakers.

The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof- or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press- or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The BoCC's Public Comment period is the ONLY venue in which a member of the public can be assured that all elected members of the governing body of the county actually hear their "petition" and don't, for example, just "delete without reading" the emails from those whose views they dislike.

In the past year, there were only two meetings during which the 30 minutes allotted was NOT enough time for all of those who wished to speak. On one of those two occasions, I was among those who did not get to address the board. No one can "dominate" the comment periods because all are given equal opportunity and time to state their views.

What could be more fair, more democratic, than that?

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