Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Defense of Free Speech Part Four (You Know, Maybe I Should Do Away With the Pretense Of Not Being An Advocate/Activist.)

What follows is a email I am sending to the Southfield Board of Education

Hello. I am Greg Miles. I am blogger who records audio of local public meetings including Southfield Board of Education meetings. You are considering altering your public participation rules. Recently, the Southfield City Council began to consider a similar move, (Discussion of this particular issue begins roughly 2 hours and 27 minutes into the meeting/video) to reduce the time residents had to speak from 5 minutes to three. I wrote an editorial on my blog describing my opposition to Council’s change and eventually spoke during a City Council meeting on the issue. In the effort of moral consistency, I oppose your proposed changes and am emailing you a link to the blog post I had originally written.

Also here is the prepared speech I gave. (I got nervous, slurred and verbally veered a bit during the actual meeting which incidentally is probably the first thing you’ll hear at the time on the video I provided.)

Statement to Council on Communication Changes
Good evening. I am Greg Miles. I reside at 19116 Greenwald Dr. I am here today to oppose the proposed change to Council's communications rules. I feel that recently the ability of residents to address their concerns to council has been constrained, for example moving the communications portion of meetings to the end. I feel that the proposed change would further make it harder for residents to address council.

While I understand the frustration Council may feel at some of residents' misinformation or lack of decorum, I feel that people must have a way to address their local government in person. Most of us can't travel to Washington, or in some cases even Lansing. You are the governmental officials that the public has the most access to. You are our community leaders. When the bureaucracy is broken you're the super.

Furthermore, while I, like you, often disagree with what some of the more antagonizing residents have to say, I feel that there is value in listening to them. Some of the details of facts they cite may be wrong, but they often have valid criticisms of the city government such as the length of time it took the city to hire a new Police Chief. Even when I disagree completely with them I find value in the knowledge that people exist in this city that hold their beliefs.

I further believe that to restrict the ability of residents to communicate with Council is unfair to residents whom may have made arrangements in order to be at meetings. For instance at an April meeting an active member of the community was dismayed when although she was first on the agenda she was made to wait a little over an hour to speak before Council. Often times other residents leave before they have an opportunity to state their concerns. I don't know why but I feel that it may be because they have other responsibilities to attend to, such as family and work, when the meetings run long.

I also understand that there is a concern about how long the meetings have been running and the need to move items off agenda to compensate. To that I would say that I believe that residents should not be penalized for that, and in the coming weeks when Council schedules next year's meetings it takes into consideration the need to meet more often as to my knowledge Council has met slightly less often in 2012 than they have in 2011.

I also am unsatisfied with the Council's proposed solution, to give residents 3 minutes and extend time if Council deems it necessary. I feel that this adds a subjective element to the rules that may not be fair. What if Council never extends time for those who criticizes them, even justly? It is through such criticism that many of the problems within the city are brought to light.

I believe your proposed rule changes go even further than the Council’s because, in my view it provides a nuclear option whereas the Board President would have the authority to, “terminate a participant's statement,” under what I consider a very subjective set of guidelines and limits the participation portion to thirty minutes creating a scenario in which a very controversial issue will have limited public input.

Thank You
Greg Miles

P.S. Because I am a blogger I don’t like to try to affect public policy, especially in secret, so whenever I send an email like this one I try post a copy of it on my blog for the sake of transparency.

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