LETTER: Free speech attacked?

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Free speech is under attack in Ascension Parish.  

Amendments to the ordinance regulating public comment at local government meetings will be discussed at a public hearing on May 7 at the Ascension Parish Council meeting in Donaldsonville.

Why do Parish President Martinez and some on the Council support these changes?

The truth is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you’re a politician. Discredit critics or get rid of them, but don’t face the facts or allow the public to find out what’s really going on in our government. 

There are already rules in place:  fill out a card, sign your name, list the agenda item, turn it in to the secretary, and prior to council discussion you will be given three minutes to speak.  Changes proposed will give the chairman authority to stop a speaker at any given time during their three minutes and not allow further comment from that speaker for the rest of the meeting.

If any other council member questions the arbitrary decision of the chairman, he can object, ask for reasons why the speaker is being silenced, and request a roll call vote. A two-thirds majority is required to overturn the chairman’s decision. Why are these changes being considered? Have political feathers been ruffled?

On Feb. 5, I made public comment about a cooperative endeavor agreement between the Parish of Ascension and Carlisle Resort LLC to light seven light poles at Cabela’s in Gonzales. In my research I found that Carlisle Resort had given our parish president $1,000 during his last campaign. This is fact and part of public record.

In a letter to the editor last Friday, April 10, entitled “In an economic crisis, follow the money,” the writer talked about the relationship politicians have with those who contribute to their campaigns and declining public confidence in government.  Ascension Parish is no different than Washington D.C. 

As bad as these amendments are, I can think of at least two positive results if they pass. First, the councilmen will have to start carefully reading their documentation prior to meetings in order to be prepared for discussion should the chairman choose to stop a speaker. (In order to silence citizens, comments must be proven false.) Second, councilmen will have to listen carefully to any public comment that is made.  Now that would be an improvement.

Kathryn Goppelt