News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Limits on meeting speakers usually are not necessary

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is recommending that its members limit speakers at meetings to three minutes and also limit the number of speakers.

Lawrence County Commission Chairman Randall LouAllen is one commissioner who dislikes that idea, although his own County Commission voted 3-1 to adopt it.

"I'm against limiting taxpayers' opportunity or their voice in county government," Mr. LouAllen said. "There are very few subjects you can discuss and resolve in three minutes."

ACCA Executive Director Buddy Sharpless said his group's voluntary guidelines for meetings, which include the speaker limitations, are an effort to achieve "order."

"It's nice to say everybody ought to be able to come and talk as long as they want to," he said. "We're not suggesting that you stop people from talking. They have limits at the Legislature and a lot of places."

Well, local governing bodies such as county commissions, boards of education, city councils and utility boards are not the Legislature. As the governing bodies closest to the people, we'd hate to see them unnecessarily limit public participation.

What's unnecessary? A disruptive speech or one that's lengthy and repetitive. A second or third speech on the same topic that doesn't bring up anything new. Spending too much time on a topic that can't be resolved in the current meeting, while a long agenda of other items awaits. And any number of other things.

Those are vague standards, aren't they? An arbitrary time limit is not the best way to apply them. Common sense is required.

Government belongs to the people, and they ought to be free to speak most of the time. Most citizens will be reasonable. When formal limits become necessary because people are abusive, then officials should adopt fair policies and apply them uniformly.

But in most cases, such rules are not necessary because no problem has occurred. And the best rule to follow is that common-sense axiom "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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