About KW

writer and community organizer

Bailiwick News – March 22, 2019

3.22.19 Bailiwick News – On the calculated chilling of public deliberation and dissent

By Katherine Watt

Back in November 2018, the Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum adopted a set of rules, drafted by the COG Human Resources committee, to police the tone and content of legislators speaking to one another during public meetings.

I’ve been wanting to write a parody of the rules, but haven’t had time.

A few days ago, COG sent out the agenda for the General Forum’s March 25 meeting, which includes a proposed set of rules to police the tone and content of public comments made to the governing body by private citizens.

Both sets of rules are absurd, jargon-filled touchy-feely groupthink-promoting garbage, and likely unconstitutional and legally unenforceable.

Nonetheless, if the rules targeting citizen speech are adopted and circulated to the public, they will repel even more people from engaging in the difficult but essential process of holding local government institutions and individual representatives accountable to the citizenry.

Which is no doubt the point.

The fact that this proposal is coming up for discussion means that there are local legislators who believe Robert’s Rules of Order – the traditional guide covering the mechanics of running a meeting – leave citizens with too much leeway to make public officials feel uncomfortable. These legislators believe public meetings are social gatherings intended to supply them the shallow, infantile “respect” they feel they inherently deserve.

Public meetings of government bodies are adversarial gatherings at which individuals can try – and might fail – to earn each other’s respect by openly presenting competing community visions and fighting to obtain legitimate majority decisions: the bruising but necessary adult labor of self-government.

*   *   *

Counterproposal to promote authentic respect for respect-worthy leaders:

Let’s have a monthly open session of General Forum modeled on the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the British Parliament. Citizens could take turns lobbing hard questions at COG Executive Director Jim Steff and the current General Forum chair, in a format requiring those individuals to respond with the substantive facts and moral grounds on which they rest their policy proposals.

With rebuttal follow-up rounds.

We could even do citizen no-confidence votes to remove local leaders unable to withstand that form of political heat.

What an eye-opener that would be.

Instead, we’ll probably get a couple more years of COG legislators playing bait-and-switch by claiming at General Forum meetings that deliberation occurred at past subcommittee meetings (most are held weekdays at noon, when most adults are at work), and claiming at committee meetings that they’re merely preparing suggestions for future deliberation at General Forum.

That, and yelling “I call the question!” before anyone at General Forum can engage in any public deliberation at all.

Readers repulsed by these attempt to strip Centre Region citizens of our already weak rights to speak freely – using personal insults, profanity and offensive language as we see fit – and to petition our government for the redress of wrongs during COG meetings are encouraged to attend the General Forum meeting March 25 [7 p.m. at 2643 Gateway Drive] and break as many proposed rules as possible while making public comments on the subject…

Read more: 3.22.19 Bailiwick News