Quashing public comment and police strong-arm tactics in Great Falls

by jhwygirl

In a contentious City Council meeting last Tuesday, June 20th, Great Falls Mayor Dona Stebbins had Susan Overfield removed, forceably (via 3 plain clothed police officers), for violating a 3-minute public comment rule.

Apparently there is nothing in Great Falls that is worthy of anything more than 3 minutes of comment from any one citizen – so much so that they have a buzzer and plain clothed police officers, and the elected officials there are more than willing to yank someone physically from the podium, in front of a room full of people, including news reporters and cameras, and then throw them against a wall.

If you did that to me, and you weren’t in uniform, you’d be lucky if I didn’t get in at least one well-aimed kick. Apparently, Ms. Overfield was able to land a punch, though, and for that was arrested for felony assault (later reduced to a misdemeanor.)

All of this over who is going to run the city’s animal shelter. The Humane Society proposed extending their contract at a rate of $186,00/year, for three years, whereas the Great Falls Police Department have proposed a $516,00/year contract.

Ms. Overfield feels that the Humane Society would do a much better job.

Given the way the police apparently treat citizens merely trying to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, I’d have to say she is probably correct.

Larry Kraj, Environmental Rangers! blogged this up over at Left in the West. Hopefully there will be video up soon, somewhere.

Since the Great Falls Tribune story will go to purchase only in a week, here is a link to the story at the Missoulian.

  1. noodly appendage

    Three minutes has been the rule for well over a decade in Bozeman. At times, with fifty or sixty people wanting to speak, it’s been cut to two minutes. City ordinance and roberts rules of order, and the presiding officer, determine how the meeting is run. In addition few if any personal attacking diatribes would be permitted by the last four mayors. The penalty for disrupting a city commission meeting is a disorderly conduct charge.

    Just as the legislature controls it’s meetings, so do city commissions. Just as judges make the rules for their courtrooms, so do city commissions.

    People can write letters that make their points just as well, many times better if they are sent in advance. No commisioner will listen to grandstanding in front of the television cameras.

    I’ve got no sympathy for the woman. Exactly whose vote was she going to influence with that rant? There’s little place for self indulgences at these meetings. They are for getting the city’s business done. Unless you want city commissions to all descend to the level of the ‘mental danger’s name calling, rabidly partisan rants on the internet, and perhaps that IS what some bloggers want, the rules that apply to everyone that are needed to run working city commission meeting should be enforced.

  2. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

    Couple’a points, nudely. I WAS NOT INVOLVED! Secondly, there were a grand total of THREE speakers that night. So, three times three minutes equals nine minutes. One would think that a city council could endure nine minutes of testimony. Also, just HOW many times have YOU testified at the Legislature? Not many I’d say. You see, whenever I testified, there was a time limit place on each side, pro and con, NOT on an individual speaker! Sorry, you don’t know your ass. And, there were no “personal diatribes” at the city council meetings. Never HAVE been any. Just citizens wanting to testify. Also, why SHOULD speech be limited? If someone wants to yield THEIR time to another speaker, why shouldn’t they be able to do that? Ya know, noodles, you are a good little brown shirt. How DARE you or ANYONE declare what is and what isn’t “grandstanding”?! The meetings are indeed broadcast over local puclic access channel. And many people watch this, for it is democracy in action. Not to mention good drama. And this venue for getting info out SHOULD be encouraged, not discouraged as you seem to suggest. Like all rightwing morons, you are afraid of debate. And one last point, noodles, well take care of business here in Great Falls. The mayor and council members will more than likely be replaced next election. You see, we still LIKE democracy here. Judging from the morons you send to the Lege, you guys in Bozoland will continue with theocracy!

  3. jhwygirl

    noodly appendage – by all accounts, Ms. Overland’s comments were delivered in a civil manner. She is not a regular at the city council scene. Nothing printed suggested anything different.

    A three-minute rule – or any prescribed limit – on public comment damages or darkens the publics ability to participate in the democratic process.

    Not everything can be limited – and the council and the Mayor, as long as she was not up at the podium ranting and raving or repeating herself or making personal attacks – none of which, again, appears to be the case since it has not been reported in any or the articles I read – should have let her speak.

    There are issues and applications and decisions that take months if not years to plan that work their way through any governmental body. The very least they could do is allow the citizens any reasonable amount of time to add their thoughts. It’s their $$$, after all.

    Government – democracy – is not a matter of convenience, noodly appendage. Sometimes it takes time. Thank GOD our forefathers didn’t worry about tending to the crops in their fields or their families at home or having to get to bed and instead took the time in Philadelphia to thoughtfully debate the birth of our nation.

    I’ve attended and watched numerous public meetings here in Missoula that do the same darn thing – either “Please show a raise of hands if you agree with Mr. X” or “Please raise your hand if you support the project”….all pre-phrased with “I see there are a lot of people interested in this meeting tonight and we don’t want to be here until midnight.”

    That is not right. It will never be right, regardless of the ability to create the rule in Robert’s Rules of Order. Period.

  4. noodly appendage

    Alexander Hamilton said, “The deliberative sense of the community should govern.” That deliberative sense is not prospered by Rage Boy (thanks Christopher Hitchens for my new minds eye view of a frequent visitor to these blogs) or by Conspiracy Woman. I do not want my legislators’ (state or local) time governed by such people. They’ve wisely put rules in place, whether limiting total public comment to a certain time, the state model, or individual comment to a certain amount of time, the local model.

    I maintain that name calling, shouting in all caps, red herrings, straw man arguments and ad hominem attacks are negative contributions to the process. Equally negative is standing in front of a council calling names and accusing them of conspiracies, engaging in civil disobedience by refusing to abide by the rules, and punching a police officer. Civil disobedience can be a positive, provided the person of conscience is willing to accept the consequences of his or her position. That does not appear to be the case in this instance. Nor is that your position.

    Another negativity is the person who stands in front of the cameras ever week to harp on the cold fusion process he invented in his bathtub, or the businessman who has made enemies of everyone in town and is now engaged in a weekly lament. These examples highlight a vacuum into which the council’s efforts and attention is sucked away. It is the responsibility of the elected officials and the presiding officer to control such negatives and focus on the job at hand.

    The best way to arrive at a deliberative sense of the community is through high quality, thoughtful two way dialog where the values of different alternatives and consequences are discussed. In the end, a judgment must be made, hopefully influenced by such a process, either from the public, with the public, or sometimes from the elected representatives (yes, like the founders) who were relatively un-influenced by the public and certainly not subject to endless harangues as they deliberated amongst themselves.

    Opportunities for this dialog exist outside of the three minute rule or the Monday night meeting. I have mentioned letters, and emails (especially for legislative non quasi judicial matters), but there are also advisory and administrative boards, surveys, information gathering meetings, dialog enhancing meetings, neighborhood groups, and even some more “experimental” ideas (that work) such as citizen juries. Many Bozeman developers engage in several dialog enhancing meetings and information gathering meetings, coming into the commission with a majority of the neighborhood on board as a result of such meetings. (Whether that results in good urban design is a different question.)

    Nonetheless we should not overlook the example of the founders. They did not provide for public input, particularly, (not blogs, talk radio, Faux news, opinion polls, emails or letter writing campaigns). They were mostly elites, representatives charged not with raising a hand for a particular populist position, like a puppet on a string, but representatives elected less for their positions and more for their reputation for judgment, by an electorate far away, and themselves engaged in that meaningful dialog amongst informed and highly educated people determined to arrive at a deliberate judgment.

    We elect representatives, not puppets, not couselors, and certainly not to be targets of invective, but to use their judgment as to how to determine a deliberative sense of the community and to implement it.

  5. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

    Kind of a dumbass, aren’t you! Look, noodles, read what your have just written. Now get’er under three minutes! Dumbass for sure.

  6. jhwygirl

    Easy Larry – while I, too, at first had (kinda) the same thought, we’ve got no three-minute rule ’round here….

    I may not agree with noodly, but he articulates his point of view in a thoughtful manner.

    I’m sure we all want to welcome free speech, especially when the topic at-hand is about free speech, right?


  7. noodly appendage

    Written testimony to the commissions can be much longer, as I’ve pointed out. Whether it gets read or not, well, that’s the risk we all take, even here, eh?

    I can make those points in three minutes (well maybe not Larry as Rage Boy), differently. Oratory is a different medium.

    In a slightly different vein, I was thinking twenty minutes total per council member per meeting might be a good idea too.

  1. 1 Great Falls Loses an Open Records Challenge « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] We’ve blogged on Great Falls here in the past. This is one of my favorites: Quashing Public Comment and Police Strong Arm Tactics in Great Falls. […]

  2. 2 Follow-up: Quashing Public Comment & Strong Arm Tactics in Great Falls « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] This post was the 8th post I ever wrote for 4&20blackbirds, way back in 2007. […]

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