I was watching the Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting the other night.

“How exciting,” I hear you thinking.

Actually, you’d have thought it was the Jerry Springer Show. Citizens sharing their opinions with their elected officials were subjected to jeers and heckling from the crowd. People were yelling at aldermen.  It’s a miracle nobody resorted to chair throwing.

What vile opinion were these people expressing that warranted being interrupted and booed? In this case, they simply wanted Carrboro to start building the greenway they approved seven years ago, but does it even matter?  There’s no reason for any resident to be attacked when they’re addressing elected officials.

The next day, an opponent unhappy with the town’s commitment to building the greenway called Aldermen “moneygrubbers” and compared their actions to a sex act.

Sadly, this Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting isn’t the first time we’ve seen citizens subjected to a complete lack of respect from people with different opinions.  Last year, opponents of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit train went to a public forum at the Friday Center, impersonated GoTriangle employees and told fellow citizens outright lies about the project.  A few years ago, there was the Central West Planning Committee meeting where citizens used red and green dots to show which styles of buildings they liked, only to have folks who disagreed with their preferences come and move their dots, so it would appear no one supported mixed use-style buildings.

Are we really in the same community that fought the speakers ban in the 1960s so every voice could be heard?

If you have a pointed opinion, by all means share it with passion.  The editors of Chapelboro.com would love to publish your thoughts right here.  Then, let’s have open, honest debates about our differences.  However, no one has the right to intimidate you or anybody else in town into staying silent just because they disagree.  Wholesale liquidation of fairness, integrity, and respect for all of our neighbors’ beliefs in the pursuit of advocating for our own is not who we are as a community.

Unless we all continue to tolerate it, that is.

If you’re one of the very few individuals who have stooped to such behavior in the past, knock it off.

If you’re an elected official presiding over a public meeting, you need to step up, do your job, and demand residents show respect for other residents’ right to be heard. After all, the meetings you oversee are legally-binding proceedings, not kaffeeklatsches.  Courtroom judges don’t tolerate hecklers from the audience and neither should you.  If people interfere with other residents’ right to be heard, you should politely, but firmly, ask the perpetrators to leave.

For the rest of us, what good are we if we continue to speak of this behavior in hushed euphemisms?  Are we really so worried about offending those hell-bent on suppressing the opinions of others that we won’t stand up for the people whose opinions are suppressed?

Let’s come together—regardless of how we all feel about the issue at hand—and stop allowing our local government meetings to turn into Jerry Springer.

 

— Matt Bailey

 

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