Is Freedom Of Speech Under Attack In Leander?

Posted in Commentary, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 10:57 pm by wcnews

What is it with Williamson County? Americans participating in Democracy causes the Leander City Council to consider curtailing freedom of speech at meetings. From the AAS last week, Leander council to decide on citizen communication rules.

A proposed ordinance that would limit the number of people who can speak during City Council meetings is raising free speech issues in Leander.

The ordinance, which was prepared by the city attorney’s office, would allow a maximum of 10 people to speak on agenda items at council meetings. Five of those could speak in support of the issue; five could speak against it.

The ordinance would also allow a maximum of five people to speak during “citizens comments” time, when people can discuss issues not listed on the agenda.

Some council members say the proposed rules would harm free speech rights.

That’s right. Democracy can be very, very difficult at times. Makes one wonder what these people expected when they ran for office.

Council members agreed in early June to limit the number of speakers during public meetings. But they also agreed that they wanted to keep a record of how many people at the meeting were actually in support of or against an item — even if they were not one of the 10 people called on to speak, Council Member Kirsten Lynch, said.

That was not included in the proposed ordinance.

“I would definitely want people on record. I want to make sure everybody has a voice,” Lynch said.

Some members also say they think the draft of the ordinance is too long and imposes too many restrictions. The city attorney’s office is expected to bring a revamped ordinance to the council in early August.

That’s better. But in my experience from watching many committee hearings, etc., when many people sign up at one of these, many will wind up not speaking - especially when everyone’s saying the same thing - and if given the chance to be put on the record or submit written comment will do that instead. But the most sensible thing is to allow them to talk but limit their time, give them 2 or 3 minutes. That’s what is done at most hearings.

Joe Larsen, an attorney and board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the state’s open meetings and open records laws, said he has some concerns about the proposed ordinance.

Larsen reviewed the nine-page ordinance and said it follows the law, except for the part that limits speakers based on their viewpoints.

“In other words, if 100 people sign up and 90 want to talk for and 10 against, this allows a 50-50 distribution of who can talk when clearly, in the example, 9 out of 10 would speak in favor,” Larsen said. “I’m not opposed to efforts to regulate public comment, but it cannot be done according to what a person has to say.”

Larsen said that cities are not required by law to allow citizen comments but that most do. Cities often have to establish rules for meetings to keep them from running late and to keep them running properly, he said.

He said the best way to do that is to limit the amount of time people can speak or to restrict the number of speakers based on when they sign up.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and they’ll do the right, and the American thing on this issue, and allow citizens their right to speak.

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