Another letter on council meeting
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2006
To the Editor:
I normally do not respond to the articles or comments made about City or County government officials.
This is because most of it usually deals with opinions rather than facts, and I feel that people in general should be able to express their views.
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However, as of late there has been a great deal of talk and much ado made about the City Council meeting held on Feb. 13 wherein it was abruptly adjourned after Bennie Ruth made comments about there being certain councilmembers intent to “break the City.”
Now, I was not present at the meeting, nor did I hear it on radio. Even after being told the accounts by councilmember Crenshaw I did not accept that in total, but went a step further and did an independent inquiry.
Later, I was able to listen to a recording of the matter, and clearly left with the opinion that councilmember Crenshaw had been recognized by the Chair when she began to speak. As I had been previously told, it was not until she began to make comments that were not in accord with those in favor of the motion on the floor that Mr. Evans ruled her “out of order.”
I do not proclaim to be an expert on parliamentary procedure, but I do know, that if a motion is on the floor that it should be open for discussion before being voted up or down. Moreover, this leads me to my second point regarding the matter. I am certain that a great deal of deference ought to be afforded each of the council persons when addressing issues of public concern. This is to say, that each member of the council should be allowed an ample amount of time to speak on matters before the council if he or she desires to do so.
I feel that the first amendment to the constitution guarantees that right to ordinary citizens, and especially those on the council and acting in their official capacities. In fact, I have read that the freedom of speech and assembly is very important in a democratic society; that whenever the government seeks to regulate these freedoms the courts will weigh it under a strict scrutiny test.
Also, it is presumptively unconstitutional for the government or any of its agents such as Mr. Evans to place a burden on speech because of its content.
Now, I am no fool and I do realize there has to be an orderly process in order to take care of city business. But, this process should not be at the expense of a spirited debate.
I do not feel that a council member should be ordered from the chambers or his/her elected seat for merely expressing her views.
The current ordinance seems a bit vague and overbroad and stifles free speech. For example, how do you define “out of order” when a person has the floor?
Whether certain council members are intentionally trying to “break the city” for their on personal reasons is a question that will be answered sooner or later. I only hope and pray that this is not the case. However, it is interesting that each of the councilmembers who voted in favor of library funding has significant discretionary funds that could be used for that purpose. This money could be used before taking it from surplus money.
Finally, I will close by saying, I do know that Bennie Ruth has a genuine love for Selma and its people. This is evident by the long hours that she devotes to dealing with a multitude of people and problems in this community. I think that her constituents recognizes her sincere desire to see Selma move forward in its growth. After all, she has been on the council for three consecutive terms. Therefore, I will sum up my comments by paraphrasing from an unknown author who once said, I may not always agree with what Bennie Ruth says, but I will defend to the death her right to say it.
Danny W. Crenshaw