The Power of Public Comment, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

River Kidz member Hannah Angelo Walker speaks before the Stuart City Commission, 2015. (Photo JTL)
River Kidz member Hannah Angelo-Walker speaks before the Stuart City Commission, 2015. (Photo JTL)

As seven-year small-town commissioner of the Town of  Sewall’s Point, one forum I have come to love and appreciate, although it is sometimes quite “painful,” is “public comment”—-the time set aside during a public meeting, for the public to speak…

Time set aside is usually three minutes. This may seem short, but it is HUGE. When one really thinks about it, public comment, of any length, is a remarkable and powerful distinction of American politics.

*”The basis for “public comment” is found in general political theory of constitutional democracy and originated during and after the “French Enlightenment.” This basis was elaborated during the American Revolution, and various thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson,  and Thomas Paine are associated with the rejection of tyrannical, closed government decision-making in favor of open government.”

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French to the United States. (Public image.)
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French to the United States as was the idea of “public comment.” (Public image.)

I just love this!

This Thursday, at 9AM, the South Florida Water Management District is holding its Governing Board Meeting at 3301 Gun Club Road in West Palm Beach, 33406. Many from the public will be attending.  The SFWMD is a public body, just as is a town, city or county commission. Public comment is part of the agenda. This is a great opportunity to influence the board…

Flyer for meeting at SFWMD. (Facebook)
Flyer for meeting at SFWMD. (Facebook)
Great Seal of the Untied States.
Great Seal of the Untied States.

Today,  I would like to tell a story of my worst experience with”pubic comment” and encourage those who speak on Thursday to use some of the principles we teach for the kids…River Kidz that is. Kidz trying to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon…

Here’s my story….

I have participated on both sides of public comment. I respect it, but it is not always easy.

In 2013,  I experienced the greatest “lashing” I have ever received in my life during pubic comment at the Town of Sewall’s Point.  I can still recall the entire episode: the older distinguished gentleman waving his finger in the air, yelling, saliva flying, red-faced, furious with me….tunnel vision set in, and I just sat there, in disbelief really, saying to myself: “just keep looking him in the eye.”  I was being berated for supporting the firing of our town manager and how that came to be… When I went home that night, I really felt awful. In fact, it was hard to sleep. Being yelled at in public in front of all of those people was quite humiliating. That three minutes felt like eternity.

Public comment is part of having "freedom"....
Public comment is part of having “freedom”….

Later, when I told the gentleman’s wife in the grocery store, that I was hurt by her husband’s words she coolly replied: “You asked for it….” She was implying that I ran for public office, and this was part of the “responsibility” of being an elected official….listening to the public…good or bad….

Although that wasn’t the compassion I was looking for, she was right.

Over time, I can’t say that I feel any better about that experience, but I did learn a lot and thankfully, most of the time, public comment is not so difficult. In fact, most of the time, it is my favorite part of the meeting.

I am proud of America. I am proud that we are allowed to “speak up.” I am proud that tyranny has obstacles, although sometimes it seems it reigns here too.

Did the man achieve success by yelling at me? Maybe, but I don’t think so….let me explain. “People do business with people they like and trust.” No matter who you are, it is not human nature to trust those who yell at you.

River Kidz teaches public speaking, and was born of kids here in the Town of Sewall’s Point.  Over the past four years, it has  grown to encompass St Lucie County as well as Martin County. Their self-created mission statement reads:

“Our mission is to speak out, get involved, and raise awareness because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”

Encouraging  the kids to speak in public is one of the “pillars” of the grassroots organization:

River Kidz co-founder, Evie Flaugh sits with her mother, Jenny, preparing to speak before the Martin County Commission, 2011.
River Kidz co-founder, Evie Flaugh sits with her mother, Jenny, preparing to speak before the Martin County Commission, 2011.

We do not teach “yelling at the board” as part of River Kidz, we teach respect, projection, confident body language, sharing personal antidotes about how the river affects your life, doing one’s homework, and finishing before your 3 minutes is up…”

Simple, successful, rules of public comment….

So God Bless America! Where we are free to speak out! Where we are free to exercise our constitutional right to assemble and petition our government!

Speak boldly! Speak wisely! Speak with passion and dignity! The river is “turning course,” “buy the land!”—Our voices can be  the current of the future….

Rivre Kidz teaches public speaking and speaking before public bodies.
Rivre Kidz teaches public speaking and speaking before public bodies.
River Kidz member, Keile Mader, 10, speaks in Tallahassee for the "Clean Water and Amd. 1 Rally." She wrote her own speech. (Cyndi Lenz, 2015)
River Kidz member, Keile Mader, 10, speaks in Tallahassee for the “Clean Water and Amd. 1 Rally.” She wrote her own speech. (Cyndi Lenz, 2015)
Me with River Kidz member Victoria Dalton who was honored the year at the Environmental Stewardship Awards for her public speaking before the Senate Hearing on the IRL and in other public arenas. (Photo friend on Facebook.)
Me with River Kidz member Victoria Dalton who was honored this year at the Environmental Stewardship Awards for her public speaking before the Senate Hearing on the IRL and in other public arenas. (Photo friend on Facebook, 2014.)

_______________________________

History of Public Comment in USA: (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_comment)

Town  of Sewall’s Point: (http://www.sewallspoint.org) 

River Kidz/Rivers Coalition, (see tab RK): (http://riverscoalition.org)

14 thoughts on “The Power of Public Comment, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Thank you for sharing this poignant yet important story and for being the inspirational Woman that you are. You are so right about people doing business with those who they like and trust.

    People however don’t like change and don’t always do the right thing, especially when it goes against the status quo or adversely effects their pocketbooks. Open dissension and protest is an essential liberty and a constitutional right that has made our country what it is. At the end of the day, I think it’s the total combined commitment of those leading the fight to do everything in their power to bring forth the necessary change they seek and sometimes it takes more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jacqui, I wish all of our elected officials were as quality as you. I think they all should have a heavy dose of your teaching. We all do need to be able to voice our opinion. I do believe it should be as you teach the Kidz. Classy,

    Like

  3. Thank you Jacqui for reminding your readers and the world the importance of public comment and participation. Its vital in this battle.

    Like

  4. I believe passing the No Gillnet law was the most heated issue this state ever faced. Even though private fishermen outnumbered Gillneters 100 to 1 did they realy think the state backed gillnetters would just roll over and say well you win. It is not the screamers you have to watch out for. I believe they went on a wide open sewage dumping spree for 10 years after they passed the law. I too think the right to speak your mind freely is what makes this country great. But I also believe If they took the right for law abideing citizens to bear arms away free speech would quickly follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My parents used to watch a show called The Waltons and at the end of a day full of adventure — trails and turmoils they would say goodnight to each other—good night Marry Ellen—good night Jim Bob—good night John Boy. Not knowing what tomarrow would bring. At the end of the day of spearfishing at the Shalimar Bridge I would go to the bottom at almost dark and liston. A whole chorus of grunts–clicks–pops–sqeeks and squells. It was as if all the creatures were saying good night–not knowing what tomarrow would bring————L” Chaim

    Liked by 2 people

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