Friday, June 29, 2007

To speak or not to speak

Interesting post at Electric City Weblog on whether the Great Falls City Commission can legally order someone removed for exceeding the three-minute time limit for public comments.

The issue may be even larger than the post indicates. At a free information seminar I attended with John Shontz, who used to be the lawyer for the Montana Newspaper Association, he raised doubts that any speaker time limit is permissible in Montana, given the state's guarantees of the public's right to participate in making decisions.

If somebody pushed it, city council meetings might come to resemble the old Crow Tribal Council meetings, where people spoke for as long as they felt moved to do so.


Ed Kemmick said...

I think you could fight fire with fire here and make a good case that any City Council meeting that exceeds four and a half hours constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, a breach of the Constitution more grievous than the supposed deprivation of speech rights.

David said...

I used to cover a long-winded school board on which one trustee argued that no meeting should run later than 10 p.m. So every meeting when 10 p.m. rolled around, he would move to adjourn, and his motion would die for lack of a second.

Many times I was tempted to holler out "second" and hope nobody would notice it was me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you guys are missing the point entirely. Here, let me recap. John Lawton (rhymes with rotten) got the city of GF involved in a boondoggle proposed coal fired plant. And he tried to do it under the table. Well, little by little, the people of GF discovered what was going on. So, they started investigating. And what they found out, they didn't like. So, they stared asking questions. And THEN, the trouble began! First, there were NO public meetings allowed on the proposed plant. NONE! Can you even imagine? Then, the city council immediately violated its OWN bylaws and cancelled a vote on the issue. People grew angrier. They became active and informed, and wanted some answers from their elected officials. THEN, the mayor instituted the "three minute rule", thereby effectively disallowing any public discussion what-so-ever. It also effectively took away the public's right to question their elected officials. THEN, they mayor started having the police escort people out. At first, because the accidentally went over three minutes. Then, if she didn't like what they had to say. SO, you can see that what was formerly and open process had now become something quite unfamiliar undemocratic. HERE'S what you fellas are missing. The people being limited to three minutes weren't flunkies. They were local doctors concerned about the health effects of the plant; CPAs wondering where three million unaccounted dollars went; farmers concerned about questionable re-zoning tactics that made their land nearly useless; expert witness on energy issues; and lots and lots of citizens with questions and concerns! SO, it was NOT the like reservation. It was the entire intelligentsia of a community coming togther to demand democracy. Susan inadvertently fell prey to the trap set by the the mayor and her thug cops. I'm sure they really wanted to catch a coal plant opponent, but any good trapper will tell you that's how it works. Sometimes you get an unintended critter. The fortunate thing is that they caught a lady who is every bit the match for these peanut rollers. Susan is smart, she's fearless, and she's tough as nails. And ol' chief of police Dorky Grove may end up usin' a WHOLE lot of his budget to make things right in a legal sense. So, there you have it. Other communities might take things lying down. But I'll tell ya, GF is different. We DEMAND what's due to us. Stay tuned. We'll set a blueprint for the rest of the state as to how to kick some bad guy ass! You'll see.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!