City board rejects motion to allow public to speak at meetings

by | November 6, 2017 6:14 am

A motion made by an alderman to allow the public to address city officials during a certain portion of their twice-monthly meetings has been rejected by the remaining members.

“One of the major complaints that I have with this board, in general, is that the public can not address us in these meetings,” stated Alderman Jerry Lowery, who had made the motion. “I don’t know the history behind that, but I’d like to make a motion to allow people to be able to come here and allow the public to address us if needed.”

After a period of silence from the board, Lowery then asked, “What is the guidelines right now?”

City of Sparta Mayor Jeff Young replied.

“The standard procedure for now is that if anything is put on the agenda, it is approved by the mayor,” said Young. “If someone wants to address the board, I’m just like each and every member of this board. I’m open 24-hours a day to speak to anybody. But, we don’t typically have an open session for the public to come, unless it’s approved by the mayor, and at that point in time I’ll see if I think it’s necessary.

“My concern is, again, I’m open to speak to anybody and field any calls even at 4 in the morning. But, I think if we do that, [allow the public to address the board], it would put us in a situation sorta like the county [commission] has been. That it will create sort of a circus atmosphere. It’s not a controlled environment, and it could create potential chaos.”

The Board of Commissioners of White County allows the public to come forward and address the commission during a designated segment that is listed on the agenda.

“I just don’t think it’s in our best interest,” said Young.

The Expositor contacted several city governments in the Upper Cumberland to see what is standard procedure for their meetings. The cities of Cookeville, Spencer, McMinnville, Smithville, Crossville, and Baxter all allow the public to address their respective boards during their regularly scheduled meetings.

According to City of Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton, “Towards the end of our city council meetings, I will open the floor for anyone in the audience to come forward and address the board. I have a brief statement that I will read that provides the guidelines to those who wish to speak to the board. [Each person can speak for three minutes, cannot use vulgar language and must address the entire council, not just one specific council member.]”

“We are elected officials who serve the public,” stated Shelton. “This allows the general public an opportunity to address their elected officials.”

After Young addressed the board about his position on the matter, no other board member provided any additional comments, with the exception of Lowery.

“I just don’t understand why we can’t allow someone to come and speak to us,” he said. “We are elected officials and representatives of the public. If they don’t have the opportunity to come and speak to us, yeah they can call me on the cell phone or catch me on the side of the road, but I just think it’s in our best interest to allow the public to address us. We can set the guidelines to how the public can address the board. But, without a second [on the motion], it can’t go anywhere.”

No alderman seconded Lowery’s motion to allow a segment to be established to allow the public to address the board. Therefore the motion failed.

comments » 12

  1. Comment by dp

    November 6, 2017 at 6:59 am

    If they do not want to hear the public they should all be replaced during the next election!

  2. Comment by Karen Lees

    November 6, 2017 at 8:24 am

    The City Council is one of THE most critical places that free speech from the public must be – not only allowed – but encouraged, fostered, and nurtured.

    City Aldermen are elected by the people to do the people’s business on their behalf. Banning public comment would be like telling your boss he or she has cannot instruct you or have any input concerning the job you are doing for him or her. And it is a blatant violation of the 1st Amendment.

    Citizens are to supposed to share in the responsibility of governing WITH our elected officials in our system of self government. They are to bring valuable information, testimony, research on issues, and are tasked with keeping our republican system within the designated boundaries.

    Many times, we as citizens get lazy and do not pay attention to what’s going on. So perhaps these city officials became too comfortable with that and developed a “we’ve got this” mindset.

    The people are supposed to be like sandpaper to elected officials. It’s not comfortable to have the rough edges smoothed off until they are a true representation of the people, but it’s necessary – and part of the job of an elected official in a free society to submit to that process. Otherwise, the governing body unwittingly becomes a tyrannical oligarchy – the opposite of a government of, by, and for the people. Without the people’s influence, elected officials become what they themselves once hated – the very thing that probably motivated them to run for office in the first place.

    P.S. The White County Commission has done a good job of balancing public comment and keeping order in public meetings. All that is needed is an effective moderator to follow protocol and maintain that order.

  3. Comment by Dennis Frey

    November 6, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Not allowing the public to speak in open forum is counter intuitive to our form of Democracy. Speaking to the Mayor at 4 AM is far from being on the record in a public meeting. The clowns at our highest levels of government certainly justify a “circus atmosphere”. At the local level government, we depend upon the skills of the leaders to control meetings in a productive manner. Don’t be afraid, let the people be heard.

  4. Comment by J. Robinson

    November 6, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Yeah you can call the Mayor, if you’re lucky he might even call you back. One thing you will not get from him is a straight forward answer, therefore, your concern is never addressed. I can’t wait to see who is going to run against him in the next election.

  5. Comment by Dawn Kirk

    November 6, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Yes, if they’re not open to public input during an appointed time during meetings, they need to be replaced.

  6. Comment by US Citizen

    November 6, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Karen,

    Thank you – I agree that our County Commission Chairmen have done a very good job of maintaining order. It is great to have people come in and freely speak to us – that is what really make our Republic great – being able to openly converse without fear of having our county government trying to dictate and/or manipulate what we can talk about or address.

  7. Comment by US Citizen

    November 6, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Karen,

    Thank you – I agree that our County Commission Chairmen have done a very good job of maintaining order. It is great to have people come in and freely speak to us – that is what really makes our Republic great – being able to openly converse without fear of having our county government trying to dictate and/or manipulate what we can talk about or address.

  8. Comment by Sherrie Exum

    November 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I totaly agree eith Mr. Lowery. The board should het input from the people that live here. Money is being spent “our tx dollars” so why not? It is a shame how the boad sometimes vote for projects that is a waste , when there is a more urgent need some place else. There should be a a full investigation on projects to verify what is or isn’t a true need in our community.

  9. Comment by Debra Rowlands

    November 7, 2017 at 10:43 am

    If they think they are above allowing the public, who pays their salaries, to address them during a meeting, then they have no place in public office, period.

  10. Comment by L Christensen

    November 7, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Hopefully the rumor is true that the Rodgers guy at the bank is running. He would easily win and already has a relationship with the County to work together to recruit business.

  11. Comment by L Christensen

    November 7, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Hopefully they can talk the Rodgers guy at the bank into running.

  12. Comment by Tom

    November 9, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Recall every public official who supports this exclusionary policy.


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