DeMedeiros’s Council Takes Public Speech Limits to New Levels
Not just in Tiverton, but everywhere, when a Town Council holds a public hearing, it’s supposed to be to get input from the public so that elected officials can make better decisions and (we can hope) ensure that they don’t doing anything that would be too far outside of what citizens want their government doing. Unfortunately, some elected officials treat public hearings as formalities — a box they have to check before they can legally do what they’re planning to do.
Tiverton’s current Town Council, run by the “Committed to Tiverton” candidates with President Denise DeMedeiros calling the shots, is one of those.
At its March 8 meeting, the council had a “public hearing” on an ordinance to give itself ultimate authority over casino revenue, despite past practice and (many would argue) a legal requirement that it be handled through the financial town referendum (FTR). The council initially passed a temporary ordinance along the same lines in the thick of the COVID fear but wants to make its complete control a regular feature of its power.
Holding its meetings over Zoom is another way in which the council is exploiting COVID, and it’s making a mockery of democracy. Usually in a public hearing, the government body must look residents in the eye. The officials and everybody in the room can pick up the vibe in the room, and people who choose to speak, while having to follow reasonable rules, are more or less on an equal footing with the people at the table while the public microphone is open.
Not with DeMedeiros in control of Zoom.
The cameras of speakers are never turned on, so they’re just disembodied voices. DeMedeiros limits them to three minutes, and they can only speak once. That’s not how hearings are supposed to work. The three-minute rule is usually only during open public forums or when there are large numbers of people wishing to speak, and even then, people can usually go back up to the microphone when everybody else has had a chance.
Again, a hearing is supposed to be the public’s opportunity to speak.
In this case, only a handful of people spoke, although others have said that they were prevented from doing so. Everybody who had the chance to speak — people who usually disagree on town politics — was against the ordinance. It didn’t matter. DeMedeiros held to a strict three-minutes-one-time-only rule.
The reason is obvious. She and her Committed to Tiverton crew don’t care what the public wants, at least when it comes to their power to spend large amounts of money. Instead, they’ll appoint a small group of hand-picked residents and manipulate the process to get the result they want.
They’re clearly enjoying their ability to ignore the public from the comfort of their homes.