Public comment once again came under fire at the Chambersburg Borough Council meeting

July 13 – Citizens of Chambersburg were thoughtfully requested to not ask questions about the exploratory committee at last night’s Borough Council meeting.

The exploratory committee for borough council is made up of three members – Kathy Leedy, Michael Herbert and Heath Talhelm – who have been tasked with looking into a possible nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community and a Human Relations Commission in Chambersburg.

President Alice Elia suggested that all comments be directed to the email for the committee.

One citizen said he wasn’t very computer savvy and doesn’t use email, so what was his option?

Council member for the First Ward Allen Coffman, attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the issue of public comment at meetings this morning on First News.

Jansen pointed out with the email, “We don’t know where it goes because all you get is a polite response from the person from Salzmann Hughes who’s helping the three council people and that’s not going to the full council. When you stand there in the public comment, you’re getting to address the full council, so it has a bit of a different audience than the emails. People have every right to stand in front of that full council and make their comment and questions known. She (Elia) certainly said it as if it would not be welcome for people to talk about the proposed ordinance or anything that the exploratory committee is doing. Can she legally do that?”

“No,” Barkdoll said. “She can’t limit what people are saying at open mic time. She can make suggestions that we don’t want to hear about this or here’s another outlet to go to if you want to talk about this, but they cannot prevent someone at open mic, open agenda time from getting up and talking about whatever. I’ve been to council meetings over the years, someone gets on their feet at open mic time and they talk about abortion or something that has nothing to do with local government. I think they’re allowed to make that suggestion to the public but there’s certainly no way they can enforce that sort of a directive.”

Jansen said, “What I don’t like about that is she’s somebody with authority who says that and she didn’t caveat it with you still can but I’m suggesting you use the email. Which she should have done.”

Ryan added, “Don’t forget the fact that I chose after being flooded by what looked like a well-orchestrated plan to get this on the agenda, then I chose my three minions who are going to oversee this. The whole thing stinks here. The objectivity is completely missing out of this.”

Coffman pointed out, “The three members of this exploratory committee were hand-picked. So I’m not going to be surprised with the outcome that they come up with.”

Barkdoll said, “The thing about that email outlet, that committee is part of borough council. Ultimately council is the one that will make the decision on what that committee recommends so it’s certainly appropriate to make any comments to council. And there’s a lot of people that don’t want to do it by email for various reasons or they may not have email access. It’s simply much more effective to be there face to face at a live, public meeting to make the comments. Obviously council doesn’t have to respond. They don’t have to answer the questions. But they do have to sit there and hear what the people get up and say when it’s open mic time on the agenda.”

Jansen said, “What bothers me about that too, first of all the three members, that limits who you’re addressing. Number two, these emails, then you’re not making it a public comment. The public isn’t being able to read those emails you sent. Are they going to make those public at some point? I don’t know. I can tell you that I sent that exploratory about 20 different questions. I got an answer to only one of them. That’s the only response I’ve ever gotten. Number one it’s bad enough when you make a public comment that they don’t have to answer any of your questions or comment back, but when you’re sending it out into the ether in an email that you never get a response to, it feels incredibly disconnected. It really just feels like they’re totally ignoring the public and their comments and just taking this along a path that’s already well set. I don’t mean to say that to dispel anyone. You still make those emails. Make those phone calls and stand up and say something because they’re counting on people just giving up.”

Barkdoll said, “That is unfortunate if emails are not being responded to because if stakeholders feel that emails are just going into a black hole, there’s not even an acknowledgment that they’ve been received, I think that gives people even more incentive to come to a live council meeting to make their comments known because they’re not getting any response on the email interface.”

Jansen pointed out, “You do get a boiler plate response – thank you for your patience, this is being passed on. That’s it, though. Except for the one that I got an answer on, that’s all you hear.”

Jansen also added, “Democrats seem awfully worried about people’s access. We’re going crazy with the whole very false idea of people’s access to ID, for instance, or access to copy machines, for instance. And yet access to the council here or only being able to do something through email doesn’t seem to bother the Democrat who made this comment last night.”

Additionally, a gentleman stood up at the meeting to say he could have been offended by the name of a band that played during the 4th of July celebration in Chambersburg, called Jerry Rigged.

Jansen said, “Apparently it’s a very offense term to Germans. He said if I wanted to take offense to this as a German American, I certainly could. If you’re going to apply one standard of offense and feelings to one group of people, wouldn’t you have to apply it to everybody and aren’t we looking at real entanglements here? We’re facing this new ordinance and we also have learned in which I made a comment on last night of this expanded internal, which now reached external, policy of the borough council. In effect they’ve already put the ordinance into place within their own employees and everybody the borough deals with. It’s the point that what are we going to define as harassment or offense? We’ve already seen they will really take it to the nth degree to find offense. I noticed in the policy it says that a reasonable person would consider harassment.”

Coffman agreed, “I thought that was a really interesting point that he made. It’s the first time I think for a while we’ve heard from that side of the argument, I believe. Everybody can get offended it seems, right?”

Ryan said, “Hopefully the borough council will actually get at the substance. That’s the whole point of the exercise. Get informed. Don’t just listen to the talking points and the extremes on the other side here.”

Jansen added, “Let’s not have a defeatist attitude. People need to come out and make their voices heard. Even if the, let’s just say council, majority of them already have their minds made up and they’re going to make a certain decision. Get out there. Make your voice heard. Because there will be potential changes down the road that if enough people express what they really feel or how they see this from their point of view, as people learn more now about how their being manipulated into a very extremist point of view on discrimination. I think it’s worthwhile to make that known.”

The exploratory committee will meet on July 21.