Don’t Muzzle Free Speech for Sake of Council Convenience [OPINION]
There’s been a fair amount of comment on the radio waves and elsewhere this week about public input at City Council meetings.
In truth, things got a little more lively than normal on Tuesday (April 3).
Mayor Mike Huether and some councilors have wanted to get rid of public input for a long time. That’s misguided at best.
The point of controversy was an outburst by frequent commenter Sierra, who often tells stories of battling prostitution. This isn’t new.
And yes, Sierra is unconventional in her speech and appearance. Yes, she’s prone to grand gesture rather than a measured delivery.
But she’s passionate and apparently knows a lot about what’s happening in the underbelly of Sioux Falls.
In this case, she made some inflammatory accusations against the management of our police department. Is it true? I have no idea. I suspect what she sees as mismanagement or corruption is the police department’s priorities in terms of crime. These are choices that have to be made.
But she also may have a point and it’s not to be brushed aside.
I couldn’t see it on the replay of the broadcast that I watched but apparently the mayor was laughing, or smiling. I have no idea, but Sierra thought he was and said so.
Then after she stepped away the mayor decided to comment. That drew a call for point of order from Councilor Theresa Stehly because the council is not supposed to respond to comments.
Her motion died for lack of a second.
Then Sierra started shouting obscenities in the back of the room and the audio feed on the broadcast on the city’s website was turned off.
Now, let me be clear about this, Sierra shouldn’t have done that. She’s blown up before and she shouldn’t do that. Period.
That said, the mayor should not have stepped out of protocol to respond either. Sure, she made some big statements but that is, in fact, free speech.
Public input can be painful to watch. It’s led people to publically call the commenters kooks and wackadoos. That’s also inappropriate. Worse yet, it’s dangerous.
Why do you get to decide if somebody is a kook or wackadoo? What’s the difference between a kook and a concerned citizen?
I don’t call people names, even if I disagree with them. I believe that state Sen. Neal Tapio’s rampant islamophobia is repugnant and I’ve said so several times. But I never have called for Neal to be muzzled in the public arena. It’s my hope that the people of South Dakota will reject these notions. But I’ve never called him a kook.
If you can’t take listening to citizens give their opinions for 30 or 45 minutes, don’t run for office.
If you don’t want people to speak out in a public forum, on issues of import to our community, under the protections of a free society, you may need to re-read you civics text.
Free speech can painful. It can be aggravating and revolting. But it cannot be stifled.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its staff, contributors, affiliates or advertisers.