Public forums should not be a free-for-all

Erin’s Edit


By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Erin Achenbach

In recent years, the public forum  at County Council meetings has become a breeding ground for hate speech and misinformation, with individuals speaking on culture war topics that are completely unrelated to county business. This has prompted debate on if and how to regulate public comment .

While it may be tempting to argue that public comment should remain open for people to say whatever they want, there are good reasons to reconsider.

Firstly, when people are allowed to speak on any topic, it can lead to long and sometimes irrelevant discussions that take away from the important issues that need to be addressed. This can create an atmosphere of hostility and disorder that is not conducive to productive decision-making, not to mention that it can prevent other people from exercising their own rights. Take for example an unchecked anti-Semitic tangent a county resident went on last year during public comment at a council meeting. If I were Jewish,  or a member of any other minority group that was the subject of negative public comment, I would feel uncomfortable attending council meetings and participating.

Secondly, unregulated public comment can lead to the spread of misinformation. In recent years, we have seen numerous instances of people using the council’s public comment period to promote conspiracy theories and spread misinformation, eventually culminating in council videos being removed from YouTube due to the misinformation spread during public comment.

Thirdly, while it is true that everyone has a right to free speech, this right is not absolute. There are limits to what people can say in certain contexts, and meetings are no exception. While people should be free to express their opinions on matters that are relevant to the business at hand, they should not be allowed to use public forums as a platform for spreading falsehoods or engaging in hate speech.

It’s clear that public comment at council meetings should not be a free-for-all. Rather, the forum should be regulated in a way that ensures that they remain focused on the issues that are relevant to the community, while also protecting the rights of those attending these meetings.

It is up to the County Council to find the right balance between allowing free speech and ensuring that their meetings are productive and respectful.