Oglesby's mayor launched a minor firestorm on Oct. 5 when he announced he would establish protocols for public comment.

Tony Torres seems to have still been bristling from a comment from the floor at the previous meeting. Details are pending, but he seems to want to allow for the removal of disruptive people during the public comment period.

The feedback from the people of Oglesby was immediate and decidedly negative.

"Why can't the mayor and the rest of the city council answer questions?" came one reply posted on the NewsTribune's Web site.

"So this is what passes for ‘Freedom of Speech' in America these days?" offered yet another unhappy resident. "An elected official dislikes criticism and comments from the voters, so he ignores them or seeks to muzzle them!"

Torres arguably brought the criticism on himself. He would have been better served withholding any announcements until he'd drafted some ground rules for public comment. As it is, the public is left to guess at his motives and intents.

That's a shame, too, because Torres is absolutely right. Unless the specifics of his protocol are excessive and unreasonable, Torres has both the authority and an obligation to manage public comment.

Each city council in the Illinois Valley has a slightly different procedure for receiving public comment. For my money, Ottawa's is the best. Speakers are asked to identify themselves by name and then address the council using from a podium with microphone. Mayor Bob Eschbach can, but seldom does, halt redundant or uncivil speech. The process is orderly, civil and satisfactory.

At the other end, some local communities let people blurt out comments at will, often spurring disorder and incivility. That has happened in Oglesby under past administrations. The resulting meetings sometimes were downright embarrassing.

No one takes free speech more seriously than I do, but this is not a free speech issue. Public comment is an essential component of effective government, to be sure, but it must be conducted in an orderly fashion to preserve the dignity of the council and all present.

This is not always easily achieved, as Congress showed last month with its pitifully divided reprimand of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.

Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, shouted, "You lie," at Barack Obama as the president address Congress on health care. Wilson's comment was shockingly out of line.

Both parties had an obligation to protect the dignity of the presidency by denouncing Wilson's conduct, but Republicans failed by voting against a resolution expressing Congress' disapproval.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (R-Ill.), whose district includes the part of the Illinois Valley area, voted "present" during a roll call of House Res. 744, rebuking Wilson's conduct.

"My present vote is a reflection of my belief that Congress has better things to do at this time," Foster said.

Congress, which inserted itself into the use of steroids in major league baseball, suddenly has better things to do? Please.

Civility is one of the most pressing issues facing Capitol Hill, if not in all of government.

Whatever Foster and his colleagues might say, decorum is not a partisan issue.

Give Torres credit for standing firm where Congress wouldn't.


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