Right there, in the same First Amendment to the United States Constitution that ensures the right of this newspaper to publish, is the encapsulation of the citizens' right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances."
When it comes to the Columbia County Commission, you'll have exactly half as much time to do so.
With little fanfare, commissioners last week voted to reduce the amount of time allotted to speakers making presentations at commission meetings. Previously, speakers had 10 minutes to make their case; commissioners have cut it to five.
And you know what? It's one of the best moves they've made in years.
Let's face it: There are precious few people or groups coming before county commissioners who really need even as much as five minutes.
Many speakers treated the 10-minute time-limit as a challenge. Like a high-schooler fluffing out a five-page high-school essay, some presenters act as if success keys on their ability to stretch their comments to the limit while boring the audience to tears.
Besides, it isn't as if citizens aren't heard. To both his credit and criticism, Chairman Ron Cross often runs commission meetings as if they are public forums, tossing decorum aside to allow citizens to comment or raise questions from the floor.
That's a tremendously welcoming attitude, especially for citizens who might not understand how such government meetings function. However, the reality is that while all such meetings are required by law to be open to the public, there is no legal requirement that citizens be allowed to speak - at all.
That's right: The meetings of the county commission and the school board - which, with a three-minute limit on speakers, is far more restrictive than the commission - are designed for deliberation between the people elected to represent the citizens.
While any elected official would be nuts to altogether prevent citizens from speaking out at their meetings, the fact is that those comments are allowed merely as a courtesy.
Besides: If those elected officials are doing their jobs, they will have already heard from their constituents long before time to vote on any particular issue.
And if they aren't doing their jobs, the proper redress for citizens is to speak out at the ballot box.
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