Ben Popken wrote for the Consumerist 15 July 2011, Small Arizona Town In Furor After 2nd Citizen Arrested For Speaking At Town Meeting:
The town of Quartzsite, AZ, population 3,466, is in disarray after a video showing police hauling away a citizen for speaking at the town meeting podium went viral. The woman was saying that the town council had been violating open meeting laws.What’s all this about?
It was the second citizen arrested at a Quartzsite town meeting in two weeks.
Tensions have been simmering in the town ever since the council raised sewage and water rates in order to help meet budget shortfalls. Citizens got upset after there was a disagreement over whether the town council meetings were being held in full accordance with open meeting rules. For instance, whether all all the meetings were accessible by the public and whether there was sufficient public notice given as to their dates and times.There was a very loud Lowndes County Commission meeting about water rates rises a couple years ago, but nobody was threatened with arrest at that one. Personally, I think the county was right on that one, and the people who were complaining didn’t really need so much water for their lawns.
However, back in 2005 the Valdosta 15 were arrested because some of them wanted to continue speaking in a Valdosta City Council meeting. The same activist, Rev. Floyd Rose, last year went long on a technical point about Council meetings, and Mayor Fretti let him speak twice the five minutes Councils’ rules say are permitted.
In Lowndes County Commission meetings, the chair has twice this year alluded to arrest or legal action against people speaking in front of him. once in January on the biomass topic, after which the Chairman became conspicuously polite to anti-biomass speakers in later meetings; one has to wonder whether the County Attorney had a few words with him. We do know the Commission suddenly adopted a rambling set of somewhat peculiar rules about Citizens Wishing to be Heard.
And of course there were the county budget meetings at which no citizen input was entertained. That’s the topic on which I was cut off before my time was up, as was Jessica Bryan Hughes at an earlier meeting when speaking on animal shelter issues.
Back in Arizona, on 7 July 2011, the most recently arrested activist, Jennifer Jade Jones, addressed the council again:
“I know you guys believe you’re above the rules, but you’re not above the rules.”
“You work for us. You shouldn’t be telling us what to do — we should be telling YOU what to do. That’s your job.”
I don’t know how much of what she said about Arizona state law applies to Georgia law, but it would be prudent of local councils around here to, as she said, “get up to speed on the laws of this state.”
We can see what happened in Quartzsite because:
One of the townsfolk has taken to documenting the meetings as well as confronting various council members with his video camera (here’s his YouTube channel). He was the one who captured the footage of the woman being taken away by police,I didn’t video the Chairman accosting Humane Society personnel in the parking lot after a Commission meeting, but in future LAKE will consider videoing that sort of thing, too. An elected public official speaking on county business to citizens on county property is certainly fair game. We know that the county government doesn’t like video cameras even in its formal meetings. But they have no choice, since the state says:
“Visual, sound, and visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted.”Funny how activists can manage to put video of meetings on YouTube on no budgets while Valdosta and Lowndes County refuse to do it themselves.
They can, of course, attempt to find applications of fire laws or something else to stop people from talking. Let’s hope they don’t mistake that sort of thing for good governance.
Back in Quartzsite, the arrests were
“over the objections of the mayor. The mayor would later refrain from participating in the town council meetings, calling them “illegal.”During the arrest of the Valdosta 15 back in 2005, famously not one single member of the Valdosta City Council (most of whom are still serving today) objected. The mayor not only didn’t object, he refers to those arrests as having taken place in self-executing mode. No County Commissioner has objected publicly to the Chairman’s threats against citzens speaking before them.
Of course, this is about local government transparency, not about my neighbor Ashley Paulk. He’s got a stressful job, for which he accepts no pay. And he has summed it up very well before: from September 2009,
“The job we’re in is listening to the public.”
Remarks of Lowndes County Commission Chair Ashley Paulk
at the ribbon cutting for the Quarterman Road project.
Video by Gretchen Quarterman, 10 September 2009.
We hope that elected officials and public servants do not forget that job.