‘Free’ is a Right

I have several grave reservations about some members of  Fairfield County Council proposing to further limit free speech at council meetings.

Attempts at limiting legal free speech are always a dangerous and slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? Do you prohibit any mention of weather since it is beyond Council’s control? Are mom, apple pie, the Gamecocks and the Tigers off limits? If not now, maybe later as “power creep” sets in.

The meetings already have a most comprehensive set of rules to keep order. Just enforce Roberts Rules. There is an abundance of federal and state laws that provide distinct free speech boundaries. We do not need more laws; rather, we need law enforcement. We pay a lawyer to observe the meetings who should be an able “speech arbitrator.”

The Council member’s comments suggesting prohibiting discussions about water is  a prime example of failed logic in determining what is germane in Council meetings. In fact, Council is immersed in water-related issues. We are keenly aware of Council’s inherent ability (and duty) to work with the various water suppliers for the betterment of the county. To support the point, I remind all that Council recently initiated water supply studies from the Army Corps of Engineers and a water consulting firm (not completed yet). Further, water is a featured topic in the most recent documented County strategic plans. Certainly, the County Fire Department is directly connected to water issues.  Also, Council and the government team has frequently mentioned water supply  as a key lynchpin to  economic development. If Council does not have any influence over our water then we are really in trouble.

Water discussions and any other civil presentations that comply with Roberts Rules of Order should be encouraged, not outlawed.

This is worth repeating: We already have a proven and time honored set of rules for meeting behavior.

Continue to allow all grievances to be aired so they can be addressed promptly at Council time. I find that meeting problems promptly and head-on always produces the best resolutions.

Council has often deviated from germane topics. Yet, even these discussions do add some value because they allow us insight into what is important to the speaker.  But even if they added no value I would still defend the speaker’s rights to pontificate as long as they follow the Rules of Order.

Randy Bright

Ridgeway