Letter: Harvey Ward’s list is just the latest tactic in suppressing citizen participation

The ongoing tactics to suppress free speech and public participation at city meetings by Commissioner Harvey Ward and the majority on the Gainesville City Commission have now become even more heavy-handed.

WHY is Commissioner Harvey Ward keeping a list with citizen names and tracking how many times that they speak during a city commission meeting and posting it on Facebook? I find this type of behavior to be quite intimidating, and it should stop.

Noting that citizens are now forced to fill out intrusive speaking cards requiring excessive information and then give them to the Clerk to have the privilege of speaking on an agenda item at the city commission meeting, it seems creepy and utterly redundant that Commissioner Ward continues to independently track the names of citizens and their participation.

Shouldn’t Commissioner Ward be attentively listening to what citizens came to say rather than tracking them?

Overall, civility at City meetings has never been a problem on behalf of residents and the new restrictions are not needed or warranted. In sharp contrast, the Alachua County Commission doesn’t force citizens to fill out a speaker card to speak at their meetings.

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The majority of the members of the city commission, over the past several years, have a record of manipulating words and falsely accusing citizens of being uncivil for criticizing their regressive policies.

Citizens only get three minutes to speak on an item about their concerns and must use their time wisely.  Apparently, the commission majority does not want to hear about the valid concerns of constituents, nor do they want the rest of the public to hear about them, either.

The Gainesville City Commission started treating residents with disrespect and suppressing free speech back in 2009 when then-District 2 City Commissioner Lauren Poe voted to approve a grossly-overpriced $3.2 billion biomass/tree burner contract – the worst utility contract in the country – for power we did not need, causing GRU bills to skyrocket and leaving our utility sitting on a mountain of debt.

Highly-intelligent and well-informed citizens were civil about their concerns with the commission’s plan to move forward with the unnecessary and fiscally-irresponsible biomass/tree burner project and urged them to reconsider.

Rather than listening to citizens, commissioners began limiting free speech at City Hall instead. Now, with large numbers of citizens coming to City Hall in protest against their ongoing harmful and regressive policies (e.g., high rise development in and around single family neighborhoods under the guise of creating more affordable housing), the majority on the commission have implemented a greater number of intrusive restrictions/rules, making it even more difficult for residents to speak at City meetings.

Locking people out of City Hall won’t help them – citizens will continue speaking truth to power.

This is another glaring example of why citizens no longer trust the city commission.

We desperately need a course correction at City Hall.

Debbie Martinez

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com.


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