I never thought I would be coming out against free speech – and I’m not, exactly.
It’s more like an over-abundance of free speech at inappropriate times.
I am all for free speech. I usually say what I think, sometimes when I shouldn’t say anything at all. And I wish more people would say, publicly, what they think.
Paradoxically, the most difficult thing to get in a newspaper in a small town is honest opinion. People are shy, or more likely overly concerned about what their boss, friends, neighbors or family will think of them for it.
They may say a lot privately but not in a public, on-the-record setting.
But lately there has been an exception: governmental meetings.
People should be able, and encouraged, to make their feelings known to elected officials. But there is a time and a place.
This past week New Albany aldermen met to reach a final decision on next year’s budget. The meeting ran nearly three hours and much of what was said was relevant to the unfortunate and uncomfortable situation concerning the civic center.
But much of what was said had nothing to do directly with the budget and the meeting had the air of a verbal free-for-all.
The Union County Board of Supervisors allows comments from the public and others present at their meetings, but this never really gets out of hand.
The New Albany School Board takes a more draconian approach: no one is allowed to speak up during a meeting unless that person is on the agenda and even trustees themselves appear reluctant to raise questions. People have effectively been exiled for flouting the rules.
As much as I hate to say it, aldermen need to institute a similar rule in order to keep order and deal with business in a business-like way.
Only those on the agenda should be allowed to speak and they should be given a reasonable time limit that is enforced.
Board members or the mayor can control follow-up questions or comments, or perhaps there can be a time of informal discussion following the formal meeting.
But the verbal wild west attitude is getting out of hand.
The public should be allowed to speak, but they should also show common sense as to when they speak up and whether it is appropriate to the situation.