By: Stephanie Endres
Quoting Wikipedia, “freedom of speech is the right to articulate one's opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship, or societal sanction.”
The Johns Creek City Council established an ordinance when the city was formed to limit free speech at city council meetings to 30 minutes at the beginning and end of each meeting with each individual only being allowed to speak for 3 minutes.
Since I was elected, I have supported allowing any individual who wants to speak to the council the ability to do so without placing an arbitrary 3-minute limit on their opportunity to address the Council.
A proposal is being made to lock down the rules with council members going on the record to continue the 30 minutes maximum time limit, but permit individuals 5 minutes each.
In my experience, residents come to the council meetings to give public comment for 3 reasons: sharing information, looking for support, or expressing frustration. Ninety percent (90%) of the public comments can be categorized as expressions of frustration, and folks come to council meetings to share their frustration because they don’t feel like their views were heard through the normal channels of phone calls or emails.
The public comments provided at the council meeting held on May 22, 2017, lasted for 80 minutes and were comprised of 19 individuals speaking on topics ranging from Taylor Road Middle School students winning the robotics award, concerns regarding the perceived over-development of Cauley Creek, issues with voting in the last election, history of the Rogers Family, purchasing the former Dean Gardens property, ICC Permissive Codes, Linear Park development, Pocket Park development, and recommendations for traffic relief on Medlock Bridge.
If only 6 individuals spoke, who would win the ability to share their information and who would lose the right to speak? What direct, public venue will residents have to get the attention of the elected representatives that sought their vote?
Why would council members wish to restrict public comment? The reasons shared by council members are: "There is business that must be conducted and we need to spend time on the actual business". " We have families at home and don’t want to be here all night". "Why should the individuals who are here to participate in zoning hearings or presentations of awards have to be subjected to all this negativity?".
My belief is the city council meeting is the meeting of the people. It is housed in a building that was paid for by the residents, and lead by the individuals that were duly elected to represent the people’s interests. No matter how long it takes, all individuals should be able to speak and be heard as these comments directly relate to the decisions the council is being asked to make.
The first amendment to the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The Johns Creek City Council is our Congress and when an ordinance is passed to restrict public comment, it is directly prohibiting free speech and restricting the ability of citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances publicly.
So if this restrictive ordinance is passed, do we have free speech in Johns Creek at City Council Meetings, really?