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While I understand the need for order, I do not understand why the Town of Rockford does not allow citizens to speak up or ask questions during Town Council meetings. Rockford requires individuals to be placed on the agenda ahead of time and does not allow anyone to speak up or ask questions at meetings otherwise.
How can someone request to be put on the agenda ahead of time for a question that might arise during an active meeting? That happened at the last council meeting, and I’m sure it was not the first time. Citizens have questions and have a right to information. Citizens are the employers of elected officials, and they have the right to question them or speak up on matters of importance to them.
At the County Commission meetings we have a portion at the beginning of our agenda dedicated to public comment. Individuals can request to be put on the agenda to address any matter they wish. However, in addition to that, if a citizen has a question or comment during the meeting, the commission chair generally allows them to speak up. It is done in an orderly and respectful manner, and we limit the time for comments if needed so that the meeting does not get derailed. However, it allows citizens the opportunity to speak up on various issues or ask questions about things that come up during meetings.
Some things people can ask ahead of time to be put on the agenda to discuss. But if something comes up during a meeting or action is about to be taken on something, citizens should have the opportunity to respectfully ask questions and get answers so that they can be better informed. Even if the Town Council wanted to have a time for public comments and questions toward the end of the meeting, rather than allowing people to speak and ask questions during the meeting, that would be better than nothing. However, as it stands right now, if action is taken or a topic comes up during a meeting, a citizen would have to contact Town Hall to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting and not be able to address the council until a month later.
I believe that Rockford needs a better public forum and a better method that allows citizens to speak up, address the council and mayor, ask questions as needed, and receive information. As Thomas Jefferson said, “A well informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.”
The Rockford Town Council can and should allow citizens the opportunity to speak up and ask questions, and it can do so very easily without losing control or order in the meeting. If someone is talking too long, they can have a time limit. If someone gets out of control, they can call the meeting back to order or have law enforcement escort the individual out if needed, though I don’t believe it would become that much of a problem.
Also, I know some have mentioned having an issue with people writing anonymously to raise concerns or criticize government and individuals. I do not have a problem with it and completely understand those individuals wishing to remain anonymous so as to not risk any ill will, repercussions, retaliation, or other consequences they may be afraid they will face for speaking up and speaking out. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and beliefs, and they should not have to be afraid to speak up and share their opinions or criticisms. Unfortunately many do have a fear or other reasons for not wanting to identify themselves. However, I do not at all mind signing my name to my opinion and will stand by it, with no fear or shame.