By. Neil Williamson, President
Across the many localities the Free Enterprise Forum covers, public comments are increasingly being limited by elected (or appointed) officials.
In Albemarle County’s Planning Commission meeting last week, Chairman Duane Zobrist admonished potential speakers to direct questions to the issue at hand, a potential subdivision rather than any other topic that may be related to the parties involved.
And if the public is required to stay within those bounds shouldn’t the members of the commission be held to the same standard?
In a meeting earlier this year, Chairman Zobrist said that the Planning Commission had received all the citizen e-mails and he would appreciate it if speakers only presented new information. Interesting, as the staff report that is presented is not “new” information.
But Albemarle pales in comparison to the actions in Louisa last week. Greg Dorazio’s article in The Central Virginian that last week’s Louisa County Board of Supervisors meeting included a supervisor shouting at a member of the public during his remarks.
Stallings, who has written extensively on his website about his perceptions of corruption in Louisa, continued-to the growing agitation of Spencer.
"Your opinion is your opinion," [Supervisor P.T.]Spencer started in on Stallings again. "Mr. Chairman, I would recommend you get this guy moved, because I am gonna tell you right now, I am tired of hearing it, and so is everybody else on this board."
Chairman Willie Gentry, Cuckoo District supervisor, did ask Stallings to leave, but not before Spencer made further comments.
"You’re not gonna sit here and down the county administration or county staff because you have some delusion that you know more about the law than our county attorneys do," he continued. "…Mr. Mullen is a pretty big boy. You keep pushing him, and you’re gonna find out."
Later in the article, Supervisor Spencer apologized for losing his temper and indicated that he was “totally wrong.”
Our review of the video from the April 4th meeting indicated that the citizen, who may have been out of line with his direct criticism of an individual, was clearly berated by a member of the Board of Supervisors. Such Board behavior is unacceptable.
Regardless of our views on a specific issue, the Free Enterprise Forum believes public input is critical for good government and should be encouraged on all levels. Even when we disagree, discussion sharpens the argument.
We tend to agree with Albemarle County Deputy attorney Greg Kamptner who suggested to their Planning Commission Chair to “be as liberal as possible” regarding allowing public input.
When citizens, who often don’t generally have experience speaking at public meetings, are directed on how to speak or what to speak about; they often simply choose not to.
And that is an opportunity lost.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org