Editorial: Order at the council is a must

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 25, 2007

Even the most pro-speech newspapers in America agree that dialogue is less effective if it is disorderly. Even the most heated of debate in the U.S. House of Representatives comes with decorum.

The solution the Albert Lea City Council needs for its public forum question is a stricter use of its gavel.

Albert Lea Mayor Randy Erdman should be commended for seeking a City Council with a greater level of order. In his push, he often makes analogies with St. Paul politics.

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That&8217;s good. It often seems when leaders make political analogies of small towns to big cities or local politics to national politics, people dismiss it. Why compare here to there?

The first reason is because when people come from St. Paul or other cities to ours and witness some of the shenanigans pulled at public meetings, they must wonder to themselves what kind of place is this.

The second reason is because cities and counties are children of the state. If cities and counties can&8217;t follow the state&8217;s examples, it&8217;s like saying children should not follow the examples set by their parents.

The city also has to balance the interests of its residents. Getting rid of a public forum sends the wrong message.

The City Council should have a public forum at its meetings. The councilors and city staff members need to let the people have their time, hear their comments and avoid interruptions &8212; that&8217;s when the verbal sparring happens.

Our suggestion is to limit the time to two minutes per person with a limit of six or eight people. This time frame and speaker limit is based on what we&8217;ve seen in other cities.

Once yelling occurs, rule them out of order. If the comments veer toward ad hominem statements such as name calling, rule them out of order. Once a speaker is ruled out of order, that person must sit down. If a person becomes unruly after he has been ruled out of order, he or she will be kicked out of the chambers.

If that solution doesn&8217;t appeal to the council&8217;s likings, here&8217;s another: Hold the public forum immediately before the regular meeting adjourns &8212; say 6:45 p.m. The first six people get two minutes each. The forum must finish by 6:55 p.m. The council members are there, but the residents &8212; or for that matter, visitors from out of town &8212; don&8217;t have to sit through any unsightly antics.

We commend the City Council for looking at this matter.