Public-meetings laws have a vital purpose in a free society. The public is supposed to be privy to the inner workings of government so they can witness the sausage-making legislative process in action, ugly and unappetizing as it can be. Unfortunately, many local officials act as if hearings are a show – a way to put their best foot forward before the citizenry.
For instance, the Irvine City Council has become the seventh Orange County city to adopt a policy that forbids a member from putting an item on the meeting agenda unless two other members agree to do so. The transparent goal is to shut down the views of the political minority. Irvine officials said they want to stop “grandstanding,” but one person’s grandstanding is another’s chance to raise vital concerns.
Fox has previously discussed supposedly “divisive” issues ranging from flying the LGBTQ flag at City Hall to creating a veterans’ cemetery near the Great Park. But this fracas isn’t about the particular issues any member might want to discuss, but about whether a duly elected official has the right to publicly discuss them. Councils are not private clubs.
The publication reported that at least Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Newport Beach, Villa Park and Westminster have similar rules. The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently lost an ACLU lawsuit over policies including a ban on public speakers from addressing individual members.
These are the public’s meetings and all officials, even minority voices, represent their constituencies. All elected bodies need to encourage wide-ranging discussions so the public can be part of the self-government process – and not just observers of a carefully crafted script. That’s the essence of representative democracy.
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