Let public speak freely
It’s a new year, but Parkersburg’s City Council decided to revisit old settled business from last year. In 2017, council changed the public forum rules twice in an effort to limit the voice of the public. In June, they split the public forum into two parts. The first public forum held at the beginning of the meeting was for discussion of agenda items only. The second public forum was open to any topic but held at the end of the meeting, allowing some council members to leave early rather than listen to the public.
In October, council voted again on the public forum. This time they went back to the original single public forum open to any topic but amended the speaking time to no more than 2 minutes per person. In the first council meeting of the new year, yet another rule change for the public forum was proposed. This time, the change would require a simple sign in sheet for people speaking at the public forum. The idea was that it would help the City Clerk who has been doing this job for over 30 years keep more accurate minutes and obtain correct spellings of the speaker’s names. However, the proposed change was really a Trojan Horse.
Once the rule change came before council, Councilman Mike Reynolds District 6, immediately made a motion to amend the rules of public forum to allow discussion of agenda items only. This severely limits the public’s access to speech. If you want to talk about drugs in your neighborhood, potholes on your street or just need to announce a community event your voice will be silenced.
Council, the public, and the City of Parkersburg would be better served to go back to the original public forum of 30 minutes, no speaker can speak longer than five minutes, but all things can be discussed not just agenda items. Otherwise, how can citizens have their voices heard on matters affecting them in their community?