Is Smithfield’s gag rule unconstitutional?

Is Smithfield’s gag rule unconstitutional?

Recently, I attended and spoke out at a recent Smithfield Town Council meeting. I do believe that when an election ends, it should end. Those whom the voters selected to represent them, should be given that chance to do so, with minimal criticism from prior candidates. This is the model that has been handed down to us from our forefathers.

However, there comes a time, when an issue is so overwhelmingly compelling, that one’s duty as a citizen calls out for action. I truly feel that the recent changes of rules at council meetings warrants this reaction. Let me be clear. This is not a Maxine Cavanaugh issue. This is not an Al Costantino issue. This is not a Democrat, nor Republican issue. This is an American issue.

The Constitution of the United States is by far one of the most brilliantly drafted documents ever created to form a government in the history of the world. In it are contained essential liberties. Liberties that define our values, and who we are as a society. One the most important of these values is that of protecting free speech.

The “5 minute” rule on public comment is arbitrary and capricious. Two legal words, that clearly demonstrate an unconstitutional basis for this rule. This is, by definition, the rationing of speech. Our local government has created this limit, and merely pulled 300 seconds out of thin air, as that limit.

Moreover, they did this to stifle public input in government and retain control on the dissemination of knowledge. Make no mistake, this is an unconstitutional rule.

The result would be almost comical, if it were not also so tragic. Whenever anyone from the public stands up to speak, you hear several cell phone alarms chime at the five-minute mark. Which is when the shouts to silence the citizen begin. At this last meeting, an approximately 12-minute long speech was cut up and delivered by 3 different people. I commend this approach while this rule is in place, and suggest that anyone interested join me in reciting the Constitution at an upcoming council meeting in turn, if interested contact me, and we will do so when I return from my honeymoon. Perhaps that may help illustrate the uselessness and absurdity of this rule.

Until such time as this rule is repealed, I would kindly remind those on the council, and the people of Smithfield, that elected officials are elected to listen to the people, and not to watch clocks and ignore the people speaking. There are many other methods within the rules of order to stop runaway speaker and maintain due order and decorum. Those rules of order should be sufficient to maintain control over any council meeting, as they have been so sufficient for more than 200 years.

In closing, it is an honor to run for office. It is an even greater honor to win, and be entrusted with that chance to serve. If you are so elected, you should not be afraid of letting the people speak at meetings, and using arbitrary rules...which are easily circumvented as has already happened. Rather, you should use the rules of order to maintain control, and do your jobs of listening to the people. And to those that disagree? My simple advice to you is this: Don’t run.

Ryan McNelis