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Just because citizen input is curbed doesn’t mean communication has ceased

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By Susan Sharp

   At last week’s county commission meeting Mayor William Baird announced citizens would no longer be given time to address the commission at its meetings. He did say citizens could continue to address the commission at its workshop the week before the meeting.

Those who want to talk will be given five minutes. Baird initially proposed three but commissioners voted to allow constituents five minutes at the microphone.

Seems fair enough.

However, Baird has taken some heat since this decision.

In my opinion, the mayor just did his homework and then relaxed the rules a bit.

Under the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, commonly referred to as the Sunshine Law, citizens are not guaranteed the right to address any governing body let alone go on unrestrained about a topic. In fact, governing bodies aren’t required by state law to allow John Q. Public to participate in the meetings at all. Granted all of the county’s and area governmental entities afford citizens that privilege.

The men and women who serve on the area’s boards were elected by us to speak for us. If we communicate our concerns and our wants to them, then why should we as citizens feel the need to appear before the entire body?

Do we not trust the elected officials will carry our wishes out? Is there a fundamental belief that no matter what we want the officials will still do as they wish?

Or is that some of us just enjoy the 15 minutes of fame?

What needs to be kept in perspective is the public’s right to be heard is still active.

The workshops are meant to be the time when issues can be debated. And the public is still welcomed to address the commission at that time, which is the appropriate time. But citizens must be clear and concise in their speech. They only have three minutes to make their points.

And if someone truly wants to bend an elected ear, a multitude of avenues exist for doing just that long before the commission convenes for a meeting. Citizens coming into a meeting hoping to have their opinions considered at that point are coming to the party late. If constituents want to be heard- and taken seriously- then they should contact their elected officials well before decision time.