Speaking Up Fearlessly
A public hearing is an opportunity to listen to the officials whose decision making can improve or compromise the quality of life, and to speak up about concerns or present opinions on particular matters. There is no guarantee that any one voice will have sway, but it can be presumed that every voice heard at a public hearing is taken seriously and given consideration by members of the boards and commissions that are dedicated to the task of keeping our community safe, attractive, and strong.
Residents who have taken the time to attend a public hearing, ask questions, and express opinions on issues of importance expect to do so in an environment that is civil and open-minded. By and large, that is the manner in which Newtown residents have become accustomed to being heard.
When that right to speak is compromised by tactics such as the “cross-examination” of speakers at a recent Planning & Zoning public hearing, when it is insinuated that in order to have a valid opinion one must be a certified expert, that only those who hold degrees have points of view worth considering, it sends a chilling message to those whose “expertise” on a subject comes mainly from the school of life.
It may be legal for counsel to question the validity of a statement, but to intimidate through body language and wording, or to suggest that a speaker’s knowledge is inadequate — at a public hearing — is simply not right. Being able to speak one’s mind in a respectful manner is vital to the healthy governing of a town.
If questioning is perceived to be intimidating, how long before community members not only do not attend public hearings because of time restraints or scheduling conflicts, but also because they fear ridicule or insults of their intelligence if what they say is contrary to what someone of supposed greater stature is presenting?
If only “experts” are considered valuable for input, what is the purpose of a public hearing? The ordinary people living ordinary lives are the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of the community and are aware of what it is like to live here.
Newtown welcomes progress and welcomes thoughtful development. It does not welcome those who would play head games and use tactics that smack of bullying to have their ways.
Hopefully, when the P&Z public hearing concerning the particular proposed gas station/convenience store matter that disturbed attendees earlier this month reconvenes March 5, it will be with a more congenial atmosphere, respectful of the thoughts Newtown citizens offer.
Perhaps presenters could keep in mind the adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” and participate in a more palatable hearing.