I had an interesting confrontation with Washington County Commissioner Alan Bush this week at the Washington County Board Thanksgiving Day event. Bush brought up some points I would like to challenge.
Bush pointed out that he felt I should not have written anything about a man being ejected from a meeting of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners.
I disagree. As a journalist, it is my job to report on what takes place at those meetings. It is my job to help keep the public and the voters, most of whom cannot attend the commission meetings, informed.
Bush said the deputy in the board room took the ejection action on his own.
I disagree. The deputy was given a “high sign” from Chairman Bush before the deputy went around me to politely escort the gentleman from the board room.
Bush told me that the county attorney, not the board of county commissioners, inserted the public participation clause in the county agenda to restrict who can speak during their meetings and workshops.
While that may be, I however disagree with limiting the input of my fellow citizens. Moreover, I sincerely doubt the attorney can force anything on the commissioners. If it is, we need to elect the attorney instead of the commissioners. In fact, the attorney may recommend or suggest action, but the commissioners have accepted it.
Bush stressed that he spent many hours every day talking with his constituents and they can always contact him when they have questions or want to voice concerns. To Bush, this level of input is apparently sufficient.
I disagree. The give-and-take of public discourse in public meetings is what moves issues, informs the public of other perspectives, and is the foundation of representative democracy.
Bush further stated that the action to restrict the public input during meetings and workshops was needed because there have been times in the past when feelings have boiled over during meetings and workshops. He went on that it was hard to get things under control. While vigorous debate, provocative remarks, and angry confrontations have occurred in the 25 years I’ve covered the commission, it has not happened in recent times.
Again, I disagree. It would be nice if everyone was cordial at all times, but that seldom happens, particularly in politics. It is how those incidents are handled that defines the individuals involved. In this case, an African-American constituent was ejected from a public meeting for asking a question, and a journalist berated by a politician for reporting on it.
What does that say about the commission under whose watch this occurred?
The commissioners take an oath to support and protect the Constitution. So it’s surprising an elected official would deny a citizen the right to speak in a public meeting and then attempt to stifle the right of the press to freely report on what occurs in their meetings. Does this sound like American values?