Does the First Amendment Still Have a Place in Ashland Politics?
On January 16th at the City Council business meeting, a citizen rose to speak in the Public Forum period of the meeting’s agenda about the movement to recall three Ashland Parks Commissioners. She also hoped to share with city councilors what folks collecting signatures were learning. She honestly thought councilors would be interested in the mood of our community.
At this meeting, Mayor John Stromberg attempted to prevent the citizen from speaking―on grounds that the subject was “political” and therefore an improper subject for the agenda’s Public Forum. (Fortunately, the city attorney stepped in and advised the mayor that the woman should be allowed to speak.) Of course the subject was “political.” Political subjects head the list of topics protected by our First Amendment right of free speech. And while we may not expect city officials to be aware of every legal nuance and nicety of constitutional law, we do expect them to understand basic fundamentals of free speech―along with the fact those rights are not magically and uniquely suspended within Ashland’s city limits.
In the January, 2018’s City of Ashland City Source, in an article titled, “Communicating with the Council,” the author points out that the fifteen minutes of Public Forum on the Council agenda provides “…an opportunity for people to come speak to the Council about ANYTHING that’s on their mind.”
The Council and mayor need to rethink their reluctance to listen to the woman who came before them to speak on January 16th. She was inviting them to get up out of their chairs and meet with people, to make a concerted and sincere effort to find out what citizens believe the priorities of our city are, or ought to be. Citizens want a discussion, not one-way, autocratic pronouncements from on high. The mayor sets the tone, and, Mayor Stromberg, you are failing us. You can and should do better.