Seen, but not heard

Published 11:02 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To the editor:

Time after time during a special meeting of the Suffolk City Council on Monday, the City Clerk said, “Your time is up.” Speaker after speaker ran over the arbitrary three-minute time limit set by Mayor Linda Johnson. I sympathize with them, since I have personal experience with cramming five or more minutes of information into three.
Under city code, each speaker “shall be permitted five minutes for the purpose of presenting his matter.”

The mayor likes to use a sentence regarding agenda speakers to stifle public dissent. The sentence reads, “Each person desiring to address city council as an agenda speaker shall be allotted five minutes, unless there are more than six speakers, in which case the allotted time will be divided equally.” The allotted time in question is the 30-minute limit “concerning those items listed on the agenda for which no public hearing has been scheduled.”

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It has always irked me that the mayor uses this as a pretext to limit speakers at “public hearings.” Even more irksome is her ignoring another rule about agenda speakers: “Once the 30-minute period for the agenda speakers has expired, all other speakers shall be heard during ‘non-agenda speakers.’ Non-agenda speakers are supposed to get five minutes to speak. 
After being politely ignored for years, I realize City Council uses public meetings to be seen listening to the public. But they are not really interested in what we have to say.

Monday was a case in point. For three hours, citizens said, “Fully fund the school budget” and “Do not raise taxes.” Councilman Parr then said he heard “Fully fund the school budget, and do not raise taxes blab, blab and blab.”

He apparently missed the suggestions to get rid of city vehicle perks, delay capital improvement projects and reduce non-essential services. It is clear that council, with the possible exception of Councilman Lue Ward, already has decided to raise taxes.

The city has two million dollars to kick in for a truck bypass on Kenyon Road next year and even more for a new municipal building, but our children have to continue to learn in trailers.
As for cramming five minutes of information into three, it cannot be done. Last night 40 citizens were seen speaking to City Council, but none of us were truly heard.

Chris Dove