Gibson strong arms public comment
July 29, 2013
We live in a country where free speech is coveted, but here in “San-Gibson-Obispo County” such freedoms are under fire.
In the wake of the untimely death of Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Paul Teixeira, Vice-Chair, District 2 Supervisor, Bruce Gibson, has stepped up. During his first three meetings Gibson has made comments that appear to be on the path to squelch public comment.
In the past Gibson has often offered advice to his colleagues, suggesting ways public comment could be curtailed. Most notably, this past February after taking a public beating for his long-term affair with his subordinate Legislative Assistant, Cherie Aispuro. Gibson told Supervisor Teixeira, “I think we need to discuss the length of public comment. I think we ought to have a conversation about what we consider relevant public comment … and a discussion about what we need to do about repetitious public comment.”
Teixeira’s response at the next week’s meeting was to ask the public to keep comments clean and respectful saying, “This is a family show.”
Chair Gibson is now requiring that speaker slips, not required by the Brown Act, be turned in to the clerk prior to opening the agenda item one wishes to speak to. While the Board’s written agenda states this procedure, historically it has been the prerogative of the chairman to be flexible, allowing those who arrive during a hearing item to submit a slip while the proceedings are under way, including public comment for items not on the agenda.
Gibson fails to recognize the benefit of allowing free speech is to hear differing points of view. As the “smartest man in the room” Gibson is not easily swayed; seldom considering his colleagues and/or the public’s points of view. To require these slips be turned in ahead of the agenda items consideration, possibly excluding those who may not be inspired to speak until staff presents or listening to other commenters before choosing to speak, also stifles the board’s ability to hear all views.
As an example, Gibson resisted hearing the PG&E Seismic Testing issue as long as he could; it wasn’t agendized until the public outcry reached a level of fervor that couldn’t be ignored. Once brought to an agenda, giving the public an opportunity to make their views known and after hours of testimony from 70-some speakers, it was Gibson who led the board into the slap in the face unanimous denial of the project by the California Coastal Commission.
Technology has advanced allowing the public to watch the board meetings on television, streaming video from home and office computers; while no longer available on KCBX AM Radio the audio is available by Wi-Fi on handheld devices. These technological advances give the public the ability to monitor the pace at which the supervisors meetings are progressing from the comfort of their home and/or remaining productive at work. County staff uses these means to monitor the meetings from their offices allowing them to work as long as possible before being summoned to the board chambers to present or answer questions.
Gibson’s inflexible approach, requiring speaker slips be submitted prior to the agenda item, will require the public to get to the meeting early, forcing people to take time off work to be at the meeting well in advance of their item being taken up by the board.
The speaker slip “Welcomes Your Comments” yet requests members of the public take off their hats, turn off cell phones, speak directly to the Chairman, prohibits slanderous, profane or personal remarks against any individual, print and sign ones name, note the agenda item, the issue and gives the option to leave ones email address and phone number. None of which is required by law or enforceable.
Gibson needs reminding, “A member of the public shall not be required, as a condition to attendance at a meeting of a legislative body of a local agency, to register his or her name, to provide other information, to complete a questionnaire, or otherwise to fulfill any condition precedent to his or her attendance. (Government Code 54593.3),” the speaker slip itself is not required by law; it is filled out by members of the public as a courtesy for the clerk to track comments for the meeting minutes only. To require its submittal prior to opening the agenda item may be a policy of the board, but certainly is discretionary and can be overruled by any board members seeking information from the public and should be, recognizing that it is the citizens who are there giving of their time to participate in the complex process that is government.
Gibson will have you believe that this is an effort to streamline the meeting by saving the board’s time. The amount of time saved is immeasurable by comparison to the amount of time it costs those willing to participate; time equals money.
This micromanaging of the agenda only does what Gibson really wants — discourages public comment.