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Public debate a critical part of democracy

Naturally, members of elected bodies aren’t always going to agree — nor should they. Debate and discourse of public issues are a critical part of our democracy.

That’s not to say, however, that we condone disrespectful locking of horns among members of elected bodies. Speaking over one another, loud disruptive behavior or disrespectful arguing does no one any good — especially the constituents being served by the public body.

Nevertheless, public meetings are the proper place for discussion of public business. That’s why the penchant that Newton Falls Mayor Ken Kline seems to have of calling for removal of village officials from public meetings is becoming increasingly alarming.

This week, Kline ordered police to remove duly elected First Ward Councilman Adam Zimmerman from a regular council meeting after the two began arguing and speaking over one another. Under the Newton Falls government charter, the mayor runs the meetings.

During Monday’s meeting, Mayor Kline had been critical of Zimmerman because of an issue about the transfer of funds involving the Treasury Investment Board, on which Zimmerman serves. Kline and others on council believed Zimmerman had withheld important information about TIB actions from council. When Zimmerman explained the TIB’s action, Kline asked him to wait his turn and be quiet.

The two began both talking loudly at the same time. But instead of calling for order or taking the high road, the mayor instead demanded that police remove Zimmerman from the meeting.

Kline said each council member gets to speak after waiting his or her turn.

“I have council rules that are to be followed. Council rules state you must be recognized to speak, not three times or seven times. When your time is up, it ends. I can’t have someone continuing to speak. People can push my buttons, but follow the rules,” he said.

If a time limit exists for members of council, then from our vantage point, those council rules need to be changed. Members of council should not have a time limit on their discussion. In fact, it should be just the opposite. Fruitful, complete discussions of public business should be welcomed and encouraged in a public setting, not terminated based on an arbitrary time limit.

To make matters worse, because of Zimmerman’s untimely removal, council could not fulfill some further responsibility because it lacked the necessary votes.

The mayor’s action drew some criticism from the audience and from other council members.

Fourth Ward Councilman Chris Granchie said this: “We can’t keep conducting meetings like this. We can’t keep throwing people out because they talked out of turn or were staring at someone.”

We agree.

Public discussion and engaging discourse among members of an elected body at a proper public meeting must never be limited. Rather, it must be welcomed as long as it remains respectful.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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