Kodiak Daily Mirror - Wait and see on decorum rules
Wait and see on decorum rules
Jul 21, 2014 | 207 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Letter to the Editor.

Mr. Stewart makes good points.

The expectations of decorum highlighted in the ordinance (re: avoiding ad hominems, questioning motives, etc.) are already a part of Robert’s Rules, which the Assembly adopted, so those prohibitions are superfluous, as I, too, suggested. Which is, admittedly, part of my confusion, too: opponents to the ordinance disagree with this language, but it has already been status quo for decades, with no complaints about free speech infringements. Why the Assembly decided to highlight these particular limitations is an interesting question but unfortunately irrelevant to the measure.

If the claim is that the measure restricts free speech, then the reasonable question opponents should answer is, “In what documented ways does this unfairly restrict free speech?” It certainly restricts speech (as do all Robert’s Rules procedures); the question is if it unfairly does so (that is, is the minority voice unjustly and unreasonably suppressed?). I’m not sure that it does. I’ve found no documented cases where such a measure was determined (either in a court of law or the court of public opinion) to limit free speech to the extent that some fear it will. But the absence of evidence isn’t proof, of course.

The essential disagreement is to what extent speakers are bound by the same standards of decorum as Assembly members during official meetings. Opponents to the measure argue that the public is exempt from certain expectations of verbal decorum during an Assembly meeting. And they have a point: Robert’s Rules does not include any specific language about the parliamentary expectations of a public comments period. However, as Walt McBride, a Robert’s Rules scholar, and other commentators surmise, “Robert’s Rules of Order also assumes that all meeting participants will conduct themselves with decorum and respect.” What’s great about this is that we, the participants in local government, get to decide what that looks like. It’s messy, for sure, but that’s what makes it fun. (Well, I’m a language scholar, so I find any discussion of language fun.)

Our elected Assembly members determined that the public should abide by the same decorum during official meetings as they do: it asks that we all (elected officials and their electors) bear similar standards. If the measure produces productive, reasonable, clear-headed discourse in the delegation of our public business, then it should be applauded; if it doesn’t, it should be revised or repealed. If it does neither, which is probably what will happen, then we’ll forget all of this ever happened and move on to the next issue: $10 million school bond proposal.

Jared Griffin

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