‘Your time is up’Published 8:36pm Monday, October 8, 2012
To the editor:
During the past year or so I have had the occasion to address City Council at public hearings as an agenda and non-agenda speaker. It has always struck me as patently unfair that council members and city employees can seemingly speak forever, and citizens are restricted to five minutes — that is, unless Mayor Linda Johnson arbitrarily limits you to three minutes. I say “arbitrarily,” because the mayor sets a three-minute time limit for public hearing speakers. Local code states that both the proponents and opponents at public hearings are to be given 15 minutes to speak. “However, the council may, by two-thirds vote, extend the amount of time allotted as it deems necessary.” Nowhere does it state individual speakers have a time limit. Local code also states the city Clerk is the official timekeeper for agenda and non-agenda speakers. The code goes on to require the City Clerk to provide speakers with a one-minute warning to conclude their five-minute address. Mayor Johnson does not appear to feel constrained by our local laws. During council meetings, it is the mayor who informs speakers their time is up. I cannot recall one time when the city clerk gave me the required one-minute warning, and certainly the mayor never has done so. The result of these manipulations is that the mayor prevents issues embarrassing to her from being fully revealed in a public forum and uses her time monopoly to deflect or mislead the public. It is ironic that the mayor of Suffolk is literally giving lip service to the citizen’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speak. It is enlightening that Councilmen Leroy Bennett and Rob Barclay both support the mayor’s suppression of public speech. Mayor Johnson, Councilman Bennett, and Councilman Barclay — your time is up.