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It's a Free Country

Article Date: 
19 November, 2010 - 06:00

When I was younger it was not unusual to hear someone on the playground assert, “It’s a free country!” This was usually done when they were doing something that was not quite right, but they wanted to do it anyway. As I have grown older I have discovered that there is often a misperception of the freedoms we enjoy.
Over the last several county council meetings a misunderstanding of freedom has been apparent. Citizens of the county, many of whom I would have expected to know better, have shouted out and disrupted the council as it has been conducting its business. This is disrespectful, shameful, and not in accordance with our government or with the principles of freedom. No one should feel comfortable hiding their bad behavior behind a shield of freedom.
One of the primary misconceptions, it seems to me, is that the county council meeting is a meeting between the citizens and the council and that anyone attending can participate. This is not the case. These meetings are the business meetings of the Morgan County Council, our elected officials. The meeting is not between the citizens and the council. It is a meeting of the council. It is for them to conduct the business of the county.
It is not a meeting for citizens to stand and ask any question that comes to their mind or to satisfy their idle curiosity. There are other venues for that. It is a meeting for the council to deliberate and vote on policy issues. This sometimes includes public comment and public hearings, and sometimes has interaction between those involved in the issues and the council to provide council members with the information they need to make a decision.
The meetings of our government are held in the open. The open meeting statutes in the state are plain, precious, and for our protection. They are not, however, an invitation for all who attend to have speaking roles. The statutes are intended to ensure that decisions made by the council are in the light of day and in full view of the press and the citizens. The reason we at The Morgan County News cover these meetings each week is so that citizens can hold their elected officials accountable and more fully participate in the process of government.
Citizens should understand their role at public meetings and should respect the order of the meetings. Those running for and holding political office in the county should particularly know the rules of the meeting and behave in a way that sets the example for all.
There are many opportunities to have questions answered and express opinions. My experience with the council and the county employees is that they are very open to listening to views whether I call them, email them, or set up an appointment to talk.
The Morgan County News hopes that citizens of the county will take time to understand the structure of the council meeting and will behave in a fashion consistent with the council conducting business in an orderly fashion. Participation in the process is the bedrock of good government in this nation. Respect and participation in the right way is what results in efficiency and good decisions being reached.

Don Anderson
The Morgan County NEws