Editorial - Protecting Public Comment from Abuse

by Placerville Newswire / Dec 12, 2017 / comments

[Cris Alarcon]

Last week I was incensed when I read on a Facebook political blog that the county was shutting down public comment at the Board of Supervisors’ meetings.  Then I read a little better and realized they were not stopping it, but seriously restricting it. So I expressed my outrage online.

Then I read a little better…  Then later I did my homework… 

Gee, I hate it when I mouth-off before I know what I am talking about!

What I thought was an attempt to squelch the public voice was an effort to to stop abuse of the process by a few.

What I thought was a draconian re-write of the rules was actually a first-try at establishing an objective policy standard.

What I thought was a reactionary and capricious act, was actually a thoughtful and plodding process with public workshops, a process of which I was embarrassingly ignorant...

What I thought was an opportunity for the Board of Supervisors to abuse their power… Well it is still there and I will remain vigilant for it, should it happen.  

First and foremost I must give a fair opportunity for the new process to work, or fail.  It is a good faith effort, using modern management approaches whereby it starts by codifying an objective standard for efficient and timely operation, while retaining the ability to extend the public comment period as needed.

So I don’t apologise for questioning the motives and effects of the policy change, although I do regret my rush to judgement.  It looks like a fair effort and time will see if it needs tweaking and something else.  But some time will need to pass to see the full spectrum of effects.  

Most importantly, is how the future Boards use the discretionary powers this new policy provides.  I am confident that those making those decisions are aware the public is watching to see if the discretion is used to make a better public interaction, or if it is being used to squelch fair public criticism.  But until such time as a Board makes a call that the general public feels unduly restricts public comment, we should wait and see how the new policy unfolds in use.

I applaud the efforts of our local government to make a standardized public comment policy.  It might need work, but it is certainly a move in the right direction.

Cris Alarcon.