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.”
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…
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.
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:
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….
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)