Thursday, December 21, 2006

Doesn't the Right to Speak Include a Duty to Listen?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI've ranted for years about open public meetings. I pester pols and local papers with letters and emails, have filed about five or six lawsuits, and repeatedly blog about our Sunshine Act. That Act gives us a right to speak at every public meeting on any matter of concern.

But every right includes a corollary obligation. The right to speak, therefore, should include a duty to listen. And that's what bothers me. There's always a group of people who want council to hear what they have to say, but they can't stick around to listen to anyone else. A perfect illustration of that principle came at a meeting of Northampton County Council several weeks ago, when a horde of open space advocates arrived to make their support clear.

The evening's first speaker, Plainfield Township Supervisor Matt Glennon, droned on for his allotted five minutes about how "politically brave" it is to raise taxes a half mill for universally popular open space. The evening's second speaker, the Sierra Club's David Maguire, would certainly add something a little more significant. But I never got to hear him.

This is because Glennon, as soon as he was done with his spiel, couldn't be bothered to listen to anyone else. He's too important. And as he left council chambers, he carried on a loud conversation with a passerby that made it impossible for most of us in the peanut gallery to hear Maguire or anyone else.

Glennon was by no means the sole offendor. Prince of Poverty Alan Jennings is a nonresident who didn't let that little fact stop him from telling us what to do with our money. Forks resident Ken Nagy, an open space opponent, addresses every council meeting he attends. Neither could stick around to hear what anyone else had to say.

In fact, I pointed this out to Ken Nagy today when he called WGPA 1100 AM to tell listeners what he thinks about something. When I started talking to him, the bastard hung up on me, proving my point.

Why should a governmental body listen to these folks when they can't listen to each other?

10 comments:

LSTresidentPIA said...

Whose side are you on anyway Bernie?

You make a great point. As much as it pains me most days, that is why I sit through entire township meetings. They are boring most of the time and counil members act like idoits and show why they are more like a clique out to do what is best for themselves than an elected body charged with serving the best interets of all township residents. But I manage to stay till the end.

Billy Givens said...

Bernie,

Thanks for acknowledging my BillyBytes blog on today's Sunny WGPA-AM 1100 radio broadcast, together with the Valley's many other blogs.

Several years ago I wrote in a newsletter that the Lehigh River watershed included Warren County, and you corrected me.

You were right, of course - then; but since, Warren County, and in fact the whose of New jersey except newark and Camden, have been annexed into the Valley, under the Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, based on the national census of 2000.

Though it's a violation of federal law to use this statistical census data for purposes other exce[t planning, Pennsylvania and Jersey officials have abused those data to expand the Valley's boundaries and their political reach.

The driving force of this expansion is Phillipsburg native and lawyer-developer, Michael Perrucci, mentioned again today in The Express-Times in connection with Jersey's long-stifled Railroad and Transportation Museum.

A former Warren County Democratic Party Chairman, former U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli's campaign treasurer, partner of New York City's Newmark & Co. Realty and its CEO Barry Gosin and horse-racing promoter Jeff Gural, the NYC law offices of Fischbein, Badillo, Wagner, and Harding, and the law firm of Cozy O'Connor, whose managing partner of the Philadelphia was hand-picked by Gov. Rendell as chairman of the Pennsylvani Gaming Control Board.

Much of the Lehigh Valley expansion to include New Jersey is being accomplished through the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) and its chairman Philip Mugavero.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LST,

I don't believe we have good government unless people listen to each other. This is more than simple courtesy or respect.

Too many of us want others to know what WE think but aren't willing to listen to anybody else. It happened on the radio today. Ken Nagy, who addresses council every time he shows for a meeting, never has the courtesy to listen to council. And today, after I listened to him, he hung up on me when it was my turn to speak. What kind of message does that send? If a citizen wants a governmental body to take him seriously, he should be willing to listen to them, even though that can be very painful.

LST & Billy would never walk out in the middle of a meeting. A right to speak implies a duty to listen.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Billy, No thanks necessary. I think AM talk show listeneres might actually like the blogosphere, at least those who can read.

Seriously, there are a lot of similarities. Most of us in this are are on the left side of the political spectrum, but that could change. And we definitely are opinionated.

t.g. said...

I spoke at today's Luzerne County Commissioners' meeting. It was a reschedule and I had to postpone someone in order to even attend to say my piece. I left as soon as I was finished, as a 1pm meeting is more than a little inconvenient (and designed to be just that).
I prefer to stay and hear everyone, and I understand your point, but what bothers me more than those who attend to speak not staying to listen is those you are facing not listening to what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?"

-Matt Glennon et al

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm not sure this is Matt Glennon et al or whether someone is spoofin' me. But Mattie, if that rerally was you, then do me a favor. If you want to leave right after you're down with your homily, don't carry on a loud conversation with someone in the hallway as you're leaving. I couldn't hear a frickin' word that the Sierra Cluib's Dave Maguire hasd to say, thanks to you. Believe it or not, some of us are actually interested in what others have to say.

t.g. said...

The other thing that gets under my skin is that when I am allowed to speak, it is referred to as 'public comment'. In other words, "We don't want you to engage us in dialogue, Mr. Citizen, you might make us look stupid."
Sure I get to talk, but the politicians just sit there and stare when they know if they open there mouth they will have to lie or admit to some kind of willful misconduct.
Gave away every borrowed dollar to the crooks in the City and in CitiVest, they did, even though there are mountains of evidence of fiscal mismanagement by both of those parties.

t.g. said...

The other thing that gets under my skin is that when I am allowed to speak, it is referred to as 'public comment'. In other words, "We don't want you to engage us in dialogue, Mr. Citizen, you might make us look stupid."
Sure I get to talk, but the politicians just sit there and stare when they know if they open their mouths they will have to lie or admit to some kind of willful misconduct.
Gave away every borrowed dollar to the crooks in the City and in CitiVest, they did, even though there are mountains of evidence of fiscal mismanagement by both of those parties.

Bernie O'Hare said...

t.g., The Sunshine Act gives you the right to speak, but does not give you the right either to engage in dialougue or insist on answers to questions. Sometimes, local officials do that, but they certainly have no obligation to do so.

TYhe important point is that you do have the right to tell them what you think, and they have the option of sharing their views, wither thenm or at some later point.