Ray Washington: Don't pull the plug


Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 6:50 p.m.

That citizen commentators should be civil in their discourse is a bromide with which few if any legitimate participants in this community's political discourse would take issue.

Ninety-nine percent of the citizen comments made before the Gainesville City Commission are civil. The mayor's and certain commissioners' continued focusing on relatively rare acts of incivility is a follow up to a month-old red herring dragged behind a stalking horse in front of a trial balloon.

A proposal by the mayor and these commissioners — to pull the plug on televised and video streamed public comment — would have the effect of suppressing public knowledge of questions being asked by pesky citizens who bring attention to commission actions the mayor and some commissioners seem intent on ensuring remain unexamined.

Ron Cunningham in his Sept. 16 column, while commiserating with the mayor and these commissioners, tacitly acknowledges that incivility isn't their main problem. Much of his column is devoted to commission discomfort with the content of concerns uttered by "grumpy" citizens who have "unrealistic expectations" in Cunningham's view ("I'm pretty sure the biomass plant isn't going to disappear, folks.")

Cunningham's advice to commissioners who chafe at providing a forum for citizens seeking redress of grievances commissioners deem inappropriate to grieve: "I recommend that commissioners try not to take it personally, practice their poker faces and wait the rascals out."

His recommendation is similar to last year's suggestion from Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, whose advice was to "politely ignore" citizens wishing the commission to engage in a dialogue about the city's more than $3 billion GREC wood burning electricity generation contract before a notice to proceed with construction had been issued. (" ‘Blunt' e-mail on biomass led energy panel member to resign," Aug. 10, 2011.)

But none of this appalling-enough advice is likely to be embraced by Mayor Craig Lowe and fellow Regional Utilities Committee members Susan Bottcher and Lauren Poe, no fans of tolerance for those who disagree with them.

It was these three who last month suggested, among other things, that the commission might want pull the broadcast plug on citizen comments, all for the greater public good, according to them.

If such an anti-democratic scheme were to be implemented, citizens who choose to watch City Commission meetings at home on cable television or on streaming video would be able to hear commissioner comments but unable to hear the questions and comments posed by citizens.

This bad proposal has never been withdrawn or disavowed. When discussion of it might come back before the commission is being kept unclear.

As reported in The Sun on Sept. 13: "Lowe also said that it remains to be seen if commissioners again will raise the issue of possible changes to public comment. ‘Who knows?' he said."

Stay tuned, while staying tuned remains an option.

Ray Washington lives in Gainesville.

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