County officials' failure to listen to constituents is an insult to the Constitution.
Not listening to others is a form of disrespect. When you operate at an official capacity, such as an elected official, listening to others is also a Constitutional obligation. Americans are granted the right to free speech by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. County Justices of the Peace (JPs) have a Constitutional duty to represent the people they serve. By ignoring community members while speaking and quashing public comment altogether, County Officials not only violate the rights granted to the people under the Constitution, they fail to uphold their own Constitutional responsibility.
According to the Freedom Forum Insitute,
Many government meetings are open to the public and reserve a “public comment” time for citizen commentary on issues. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals explained in its 1990 decision White v. City of Norwalk: “Citizens have an enormous First Amendment interest in directing speech about public issues to those who govern their city.” These meetings, particularly the “public comment” period, are at the very least a limited public forum during which free-speech rights receive heightened protection.
During the 9/6/22 Finance and Budget Committee meeting at the Washington County Courthouse, the Committee Chair disregarded County Ordinance and not only removed the public comment period prior to voting on ordinaces, but also threatened to remove a community member who spoke out about the violation of the body's own rules.
The Code of Ordinances for Washington County, Arkansas clearly lays out the procedural rules for public comment:
Procedural Order per County Ordinance:
4. Public Comment
Just last month, the Quorum Court was following this rule:
So why the change? No one knows. Email your representatives to find out.
This same county official already has a lawsuit for violation of free speech pending against him. Here is an update from the plantiff:
Arbitrarily (and illegally) withdrawing the public comment period wasn't the only mockery of Constitutional duty that night. During the allotted public comment period at the end of the meeting, after all votes for the evening had been cast, elected officials walked out while people were speaking:
The representative for District 6 (Springdale area) walked out while the Director of Veterans Services described staffing needs within that office.
Want to replace her with someone who respects veterans? Vote for Michael Mapa, a United States Veteran.
The representative for District 10 (Farmington area) walked out when a woman was speaking.
Want a representative who wants to hear what women have to say? Vote for Amanda Foster.
Want a representative who will call out disrespect and push back to protect your rights?
Vote Ash Lee Hicks for JP 15.