Council yanks citizens' soapbox

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The public comment period that precedes regular business during monthly meetings of the Lewisburg City Council has been suspended by general consensus of the elected officials.

Mayor Bob Phillips announced the decision during the regular meeting this month, explaining that it's a result of the exchange he had one month earlier with Jerry Freeman, a former executive director of the Lewisburg Housing Authority and frequent attendee at Council meetings.

However, the decision affects everyone who might want to speak at a Council meeting. Residents use the comment period to voice opinions on topics as tame as a compliment for a city employee's work, or as complicated as a city worker's wife and friends standing up for his right to post a candidate's campaign sign in his front yard.

Phillips emphasized that the decision was brought about by the recurring rant from Freeman, explaining: "I would return it tomorrow if not for Jerry."

Freeman's work contract with the authority expired a few years ago and was not renewed, so he sued, lost, appealed and lost again. He says he plans to take his case the U.S. Department of Justice. In the midst of that, Freeman asked City Attorney Bill Haywood to investigate malfeasance allegations against Phillips. Haywood says there's nothing to the allegations, so Freeman would have to take the mayor to court.

That's not happened. For his part, Phillips says, "Bring it on. Let's get it over with."

A step toward elimination of the public comment period was put into effect earlier this year when comments were limited to issues over which the Council has control. Complaints about utilities must now go directly to the gas, power and water . . .Pick up a copy of today's edition, Wednesday, June 25, 2008 for entire story.