If someone didn’t already know that the Republican Party truly is the party of the elite, who don’t want to mingle with the unwashed masses, then this should cement it for them. Looking at the kind of discriminatory tactics that our one party, Republican, government in Williamson County have put into place, it’s obvious our elected representatives in Georgetown only want the “right” kind of people addressing them, and to do it in a manner they find pleasing.
Yesterday Rebecca Bernhardt, Policy Development Director for the ACLU Foundation of Texas spoke at the Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) meeting regarding the Rules of Conduct, Procedure & Decorum they adopted in October 2007. I received an email yesterday regarding what she said.
Really effective presentation by the ACLU att’y, Rebecca Bernhardt, @ WCCC this morning; she pointed out that many of the attendees would not pass strict interpretation of the dress code because they were in jeans, and that some of them had made statements that others in attendance certainly could have found insulting; then she reminded them of the importance of free speech in a participatory democracy and asked them to reconsider the language of their ordinance relating to those issues. Very dignified, instructive and non-confrontational.
Reports last night from KXAN w/video, (ACLU Asks Williamson County To Change Dress Code Rules) and News 8 (New Wilco Court rules scrutinized by ACLU) seem to echo those sentiments.
A revised policy enacted back in October states that during public comments, profane, insulting or threatening language toward any member of the commissioners’ court will not be tolerated.
“The word insulting is very vague and over broad and could include a lot of public comments that are of public value,” ACLU’s Rebecca Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt points out that members of the public are allowed to disagree with their elected officials, whether those officials find it insulting or not.
“It’s a violation of people’s right to freedom of speech to say you can comment as long as it’s positive or neutral, but not negative, because we really don’t want to hear it if you don’t like what we’re doing,” Bernhardt said.
County Judge Dan Gattis defends the new policies. He said they’re necessary to maintain decorum.
“I’ll stand by that. We’ve had people come in and point their fingers and basically screamed at people in the court, and that is not something we intend to tolerate. We will continue to enforce that,” Gattis said.
You can read Gattis’ former statements on the dress code and the need to revisit it here.Â The rules will change or the county will be sued and forced to change them, the WCCC surely is aware of that.
The court plans to evaluate the policy to see if they can make the language clearer.
The ACLU said they’ll wait and see what the court decides before taking any further action.
Williamson County is not a dictatorship and the US Constitution takes precedence. Especially over the wishes and hurt feelings of the members of the WCCC, when having to face redress from the citizenry, some of whom may be wearing blue jeans and using words they don’t want to hear.
But this is just more of the familiar pattern we’ve seen in Williamson County over the last several years. The GOP machine that runs Williamson County is not used to having their decisions questioned, or being held to account, when trying to keep it’s decisions from public view. Once found out, they then try to make any dissent go away. With the increased population and needs of the county also comes increased scrutiny and a much bigger need for competent leadership.
When a deal is made to imprison mothers and children, now it will be noticed. When an already bad landfill contract is made worse – detrimental for local citizens and taxpayers and a gain for local politicians and a corporation – now it will be noticed. When the accused are denied their right to counsel, now it will be noticed. When meetings run afoul of the Open Meetings Act, now it will be noticed. And the list goes on. And they may have violated the open meeting rules again yesterday, again from email:
Judge Gattis failed to formally call the meeting to order. Technically, no business can be transacted without calling the meeting to order in some formal manner.
It would seem by now that the court would know they’re being watched and would make sure they’re obeying open meeting laws. Maybe someone should buy the court members a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order? With the size and scope of the business the WCCC conducts, and the amount of people their decisions effect, it’s only logical that the scrutiny they’re are under would increase too. The hope is that these are just neophyte, machine, elected officials that aren’t aware of what they’re doing. Not a bunch of elitist Republicans that just want the public to sit back and accept everything they do without question.
Combine this with the story below and it’s pretty obvious that free speech in under attack in Williamson County.