Personally, I’m appalled that there is a movement by certain members on the Memphis City Council to suppress the public comment during council meetings. Especially when those elected officials were put into office by the citizens they now no longer want to hear from. Why would you not want to allow citizens to voice their opinions? That is what America is all about, that is democracy.
How did all of this come about ?
At the last city council meeting of 2015, Councilman Ford of District 6, called out vocal citizen’s advocates Sherrie Hooper, Chett Hooper and Fran Triplett at the end of the meeting; however, none of them were present. He challenged them to come to District 6 to attend a community meeting. He stated that the citizens of District 6 would reciprocate, inferring that if they came to District 6, they would be dealt with. I believed Councilman Ford felt as though he had been under attack at past council meetings. He initially indicated that he wanted to do away with public comments altogether but has since backed away from that stance.
Councilman Berlin Boyd has picked up the gauntlet.
Fran Triplett and Sherrie Hopper did not understand why Councilman Ford was calling them out, especially when Fran Triplett had never addressed Mr. Ford. They both felt threatened and attempted to file ethics complaints with the city and then tried to file Threat/Intimidation police reports because they feared for their safety. The city’s Ethics Board did not accept their complaints and the Memphis Police Department would not take the reports. Fran Triplet, feeling as though she had no recourse, went to address the full council. She was not disrespectful in her comments, but Councilman Ford, who was sitting in the chairman’s seat, was not receptive to them. He began to address Mrs. Triplett in a stern disrespectful manner. After that night, the talk of not allowing citizens the ability to address the council materialized.
After attending the City Council Rules Committee on Feb 29, 2015, I saw the majority of the members represented support some form of guidelines for citizens addressing the council but not an elimination of speaking altogether. If they are concerned about citizens making disrespectful comments towards them, I support that and there is nothing wrong with putting rules in place to curtail that activity.
If the measure of eliminating public comments completely moves forward, I feel it will be very detrimental to our citizens. Berlin Boyd says that people can still email their correspondence, but this assumes that all citizens have access to a computer or smart phone, and in Memphis this just isn’t the case. This proposal may cut off a large number of voices that need to be heard, especially in our senior citizen community.
I will never get used to not having the ability to address my elected officials. It breaks my heart that I was born in this city, served my country for 21 years, and marched in the streets of Memphis in the 1960s so that current councilmen could have the ability to occupy their positions. Forty something years later, they are the ones who publicly want to take away my freedom to address my elected officials. Something is morally wrong with that picture. Almost makes me wish I would have stayed at home and not risked my life.
Voting on this measure could come up at any time. Tomorrow there will be an #AllVoicesMatter rally starting at 1PM and overlapping with the City Council Meeting. Will you please join us in making sure that citizens retain their opportunity to address the council at their meetings?
Michael Williams is the president of the Memphis Police Association.