Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In Defense of Free Speech Part Three

This post breaks several  of my general rules, discussing private individuals on the internet as well trying to overtly and blatantly affect local public policy. And I'll probably send a link to it to the powers that be. I generally like to stay neutral, but this post talks about issues that I have been ignoring in order to keep, said rules.  By the way part two also breaks rules. So don't expect to see it anytime soon. Here is part one.

Anyway, as I was reading the agenda for the next Southfield City Council meeting I came across a proposed change in the Council's procedures that would reduce the number of minutes individuals have to address the Council from five minutes to three minutes.

I think it is a horrible idea, but I understand the reason why it's being looked at. For as long as I've been attending the meetings there has been a woman who aggressively criticizes and antagonizes council, often in ways that disrupt and derail meetings. Over the course of the past year the problem has been exacerbated by other residents who have joined her crusade. My feelings regarding this woman are complex.

Is she always right? No, in fact she often spreads misinformation. Is she wasting time? Ehh not really.

"Wait, what" I hear you saying.  Yeah I know. I'm a free speech nut. While a lot of what she says is out there, she does on occasion make valid criticisms of the Council. For instance, I also feel that the city took too long, at least a year and a half, to find a new Police Chief. I changed my mind because the city administrator better explained why after the city worked with the Federal government to modify and accepted it, but at the time I thought the city should have accepted the SAFER Grant.

But even I'll admit that very often she is misinformed. That said I believe that even knowing she is wrong there is value in the knowledge that there are people in the world, heck, in this city who view things the way she does.

But let's get to brass tacks here. My views on the proposed policy change have little to do with this woman. As stated I am free speech nut. I have to be. I want to make my living by obtaining and redistributing information as well as crafting narrative, which is a complicated way of saying reporting, media and writing. I have a vested interest in the first amendment and free speech. On a quasi-unrelated note... free Pussy Riot!

But moreover, the residents, including this woman, need a way to address Council in person, and Council needs a way to get feedback from the residents. I feel that there may be an attitude that this portion of the meetings may be less important than others and I disagree with that view profoundly.

I feel that in trying to curtail this woman, Council may in fact be limiting all residents' ability to address their concerns and grievances to council. For instance, when I first started attending the meetings the communications portion of these meetings, where residents have the ability to address the Council in person, were at the beginning of the meeting.  They were moved towards the middle and on occasion the end. On several occasions residents who wanted to address the council left before they had an opportunity to. I can not for certain say why, but I feel that they may have been unable to wait until the end of the meeting. They may have had to work early in the mornings or needed to collect their children from a sitter.

Sometimes the agendas do not reflect the change and have to be verbally changed which I also feel is unfair to the public, who may have made prior arrangements to be at the meeting. One woman, whom I believe many on the council know as an active community member, was livid after having waited for over an hour when she believed that she would be speaking relatively early at the April 23, special meeting.

I just feel that there is an overall constraining on residents' ability to address Council and it's unfair and ultimately detrimental to the city.

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