No muttering allowed: Anniston Council wants what it can’t have — Silent democracy
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Sep 29, 2011 | 2940 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Anniston City Council is hounded by critics, wants no hint of dissent during council meetings, and abhors voices of opposition.

It doesn’t seek a political utopia. It seeks autocratic power.

Annexing Oxford would be easier.

Like misguided tyrants, select members of Anniston’s council want their critics silenced, public dissent during meetings punished and voices of opposition shown the exit door from council chambers. If councilmen pass an ordinance drafted by City Manager Don Hoyt, Anniston residents will, in effect, have duct tape slapped across their mouths. The public will be silenced in this form of Anniston democracy.

Annistonians should be infuriated.

So, just to make sure everyone understands what the new rules will be if this ridiculous ordinance is passed, here is a list of what City Council meeting attendees can’t do in a disrespectful manner.

They can’t mutter.

They can’t gesture.

They can’t applaud.

They can’t laugh.

They can’t criticize.

What’s more, they won’t be able to address councilmen during the public comment period, because these councilmen have tired of having Annistonians comment in a manner unbecoming of their position. Or, in other words, some of them have tired of residents giving them three kinds of grief for their behavior. It’s no surprise that Councilman Ben Little supports this idea.

Result: Easy fix. Kill the public comments.

We’ll say it again; Annistonians should be infuriated.

This seems an appropriate time to lecture the august body that commands the City Council on the finer points of an open democracy and the First Amendment. Problem is, we have no confidence that the instigators of this ordinance would grasp those finer points. So, we’ll stick to the nitty-gritty, the dirty parts of an ordinance that’s rife with dirty parts.

First, Mayor Gene Robinson’s argument that the ordinance does away with “the power of the mayor during the meetings” is a non-starter. He’s a mayor, not a king sitting high in his throne.

Second, Councilman Herbert Palmore should get a gold star for speaking the truth at Tuesday night’s meeting. “You struck out public comments, council comments, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said. (Councilman David Dawson voiced his displeasure with the ordinance, as well.)

Third, how is Hoyt supposed to oversee this dictatorial scheme? If you can’t mutter, can you whisper? If so, when does a whisper become a muttering? If gesturing is outlawed, what are you supposed to do with your hands when a councilman goes on an off-topic rant? And if applauding is forbidden, what happens when the council does something wise, like, say, honoring the Anniston High basketball team?

Guess we can all hum our approval.

We agree that a hefty dose of politesse should be required at council meetings. That’s nothing to joke about.

But spin this foolish ordinance any way you want and it reeks of thin-skinned local politicians who want to lead from an enclosed bubble. What they want they can’t have. Democracy is wonderful yet messy. They should do it right, or get out of this game altogether.
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