Our Voice: Saying your piece while keeping the peace

August 25, 2013 

There must be a balance between giving citizenry adequate opportunity to be heard at a council meeting and abandoning all sense of decorum.

We shouldn't have to sacrifice one for the other.

But sometimes that's not easy to achieve.

We know this from personal experience. Often we hear a similar complaint from people who write letters to the editor.

We limit our writers to 200 words. Many of them say that's not nearly enough for all they want to say.

However, if we did not have the 200-word limit (or our 30-day waiting period between letters for that matter), we would not be able to accommodate nearly as many writers. A few writers would likely dominate the conversation on this page.

In working with letter writers, we know that each one feels his or her opinion is important -- possibly even more important than what other writers may have to say, hence the rules.

No doubt anyone who cares enough to make a presentation to local government during a public meeting will have that same conviction.

It must be frustrating to be cut off mid-conversation.

At the same time, with no time limits, the meetings would at times be excruciatingly long and likely less productive.

Some people may even go on a tirade specifically to undermine the government body's ability to conduct its business.

A recent example: The Pasco City Council allows speakers three minutes to express themselves. Some people want to discuss their concerns at much greater length.

Last week, Pasco's John Talbott was escorted from a city council meeting by the chief of police at the mayor's request (although it was Talbott who suggested it.)

Talbott brought several pages of documents he wanted to review with the council concerning city employee wages and bonuses. This is a legitimate topic -- one that concerns many people.

There must be a way for Talbott to bend the ears of his representatives and deliver his message.

However, when the speaker refuses to follow the rules and says the only way he will stop speaking is when he is escorted from the meeting by an officer of the law, well, it doesn't support the idea that he's interested in finding common ground.

Research shows that after the first several minutes of an argument or discussion, no new points are made. After that, people tend to repeat themselves.

We support people petitioning their government and being involved in the process. We want leaders and citizens who will listen.

However, as in the case of our letters, when writers make the effort to be more succinct, it almost always improves the quality of the message.

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