The Decatur City Council should be in the business of encouraging public dialogue, not squashing it.
The idea of reining in citizen input surfaced Monday during a study session of the council. As reported by the Herald & Review, members talked about whether rules need to be placed on the public comment portion of meetings.
No action was taken, but the discussion was revealing.
As it is now, anyone can speak for three minutes at the start of each meeting and then after each agenda item. But while "every single one of us is always open to talking with the public and communicating with them," Councilwoman Lisa Gregory said, "there have been times where the public comment has nothing to do with the agenda we are considering and they have to do with elements that are completely out of our purview and many times they become vindictive and hateful."
Among the ideas kicked around Monday: reducing the amount of time for comments at the start of the meeting or completely eliminating the feedback after agenda items.
In our view, such limitations would blatantly contradict the spirit of an open and transparent democratic process. This feedback is a basic pillar our system, so crucial because it gives constituents and taxpayers a direct link to those who make decisions and spend the money. And because the Decatur council doesn't have committees and votes only once on matters, this is often the only chance for the people to have their say on the record.
The council should seek more input from the people who voted them into office, not less. They should facilitate a robust discussion about the crucial issues of our community, not dampen it.
We understand that the public comment portion of meetings can be unwieldy and, if a speaker is especially upset, disconcerting. Some comments are off-topic, rude or worse. Some can't be defended.
You have free articles remaining.
Constituents play a role in this as well.
But for their part, council members can handle three minutes of listening to a person. If they don't want to hear from constituents, they can skip the meetings and resign.
Those we elect are no better or worse than us. In fact, they are us.
We are heartened by remarks from several council members that indicated they understand the importance of the opportunity to hear directly from those they represent. "At the end of the day, the council is overseeing a general fund budget of $68 million dollars ... and if an individual wants to spend three minutes of time speaking about a particular topic during that agenda item, they should be welcome to," Councilman David Horn said.
Constituents deserve to be heard, even if it isn't pretty.
Not only do they have the right to share their opinion, they have the responsibility.