At last count the number of people who support John LeTourneau’s position on eliminating public comment appears to be, let’s see ... zero.
You’d be hard pressed to find a less popular position than that taken by LeTourneau, who’s a Wallingford town councilor. You can see it as an encouraging sign for free speech; you know, land of the free, home of the brave, land of people who like to talk a lot.
I remember covering annual town meetings in New Hampshire, which could go on so long it seemed the only way they’d stop would be to start the next annual town meeting.
The last time I covered a meeting of Wallingford’s town council, they didn’t even start talking about what I was going to write about until my deadline had passed. I didn’t have anything better to do so I decided to stick around until the end of the meeting, which turned out to be a half an hour past midnight.
The length of meetings was not, as I understand it, the primary motivation behind LeTourneau’s suggestion, which was based more on his observation that input from the public typically results in “political mayhem.”
His position on eliminating public comment from council meetings provoked a little mayhem of its own: “... no other councilors supported his position and audience members were visibly shocked,” is how Record-Journal reporter Eric Vo put it.
LeTourneau said he knew it put a target on his back, but he stuck by his position. “I don’t ever worry about having a target on my back because my goal is, what in my opinion, is the best for Wallingford,” he said.
This all started when the council was wrestling with how to run meetings more efficiently, a goal that needs to be balanced with allowing the public to weigh in on issues of concern. Whether those concerns are political in nature is beside the point: If you’re going to let the public talk you’ve got to let the public talk. A recent plan in Meriden included wording to prevent public comment that personally attacked any public official. That was so wrong-headed it drew the ire of the ACLU, which labeled it “blatantly unconstitutional.”
LeTourneau’s position aside, Wallingford’s council appears to have been focusing on not what the public might say but how much time to give the public to say it.
It’s worth noting that during a special meeting earlier this month councilors talked for nearly an hour about a proposal to restrict the public question-and-answer period at the beginning of meetings. These things take time.
Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni’s idea was to limit the number of questions a speaker can ask and how many times a speaker can appear at the microphone during the 20-minute public input session at the start of meetings.
It was encouraging that most councilors were not willing to approve that restriction.
As far as LeTourneau’s position is concerned, well, he certainly gave people something to talk about.
I don’t agree with him, but I certainly support his right to say it.