Readers Write: Public comment should be welcomed at meetings

It was disturbing to read Dr. C. J. Abraham’s letter in the December 27th issue of The Great Neck News.

Many of the ideas and opinions in this letter are not only diametrically opposed to what I believe, but they are also opposed to what I was taught by my parents, the Great Neck Public Schools, my college and what I have learned through my own reading and experiences.

They include accepting the fact that people hold many ideas that are diametrically opposed to mine and many others; and that nonetheless, the American people have the right to express those ideas and hold fast to them, provided they do not break any of our laws.

So naturally, I was disturbed by the way the writer attacked unnamed people who were grouped together as “dissidents,” which my dictionary defines as “not agreeing or different.”

I believe that one of the great strengths of our country is the right to free speech, as defined in the First  Amendment to our Constitution.  Barring any illegal speech, such as inciting people to harm others, it is essential to know that we Americans are fortunate enough to have the right to express our opinions, even if they are totally different or diametrically opposed to the beliefs of others around us.

Without such people who care enough and go out of their way to express their opinions, we might still be fighting the Vietnam War, forbidding women to vote or receive equal pay, or preventing people of color or of different religions to live and work where they wish.  Obviously, the system is not perfect, but it’s important to note that fighting for your rights, whether through words or actions or both, is not illegal in this country.

If people come to the village board meetings and express dissenting opinions to the mayor and the board, that is their right, that is our collective strength, and that is the American way.

We should all be grateful that we do not live in one of the many, many countries of the world that deny people such rights and cause individuals to fight and die in order to try to get them: America is their beacon.  So please treasure our right to free speech, use it when and if you wish and respect others who do so – it helps all of us.

I was also taught in the Great Neck schools that politicians are considered to be “public servants.”

While this may not be a legal requirement of most public offices, I learned that it is something that is understood by elected officials, including mayors: although they were not elected by all of their constituents, once they take office, they are meant to serve all of them, including people who disagree with them, by giving such people the opportunity to speak at public meetings and to express their views, while the official keeps an open mind and seriously considers what they say.

It is not appropriate for any public official to interrupt them, heckle them or try to shame them, something I have witnessed more than once at village meetings.  It is also clearly wrong to provide a special time when residents are permitted to get up and speak when it is often at a time as late as midnight after most residents have gone home and will not hear what is being said or be able to respond.  By putting Public Comments near or at the end of an agenda, it is telling the public that their ideas and thoughts are not important and most people do not want to hear them.  A great deal is wrong here.

I do not believe that residents who speak up must be experts in their field or have a degree or job that is directly related to the issue.

Anyone is entitled to offer an opinion even an ignorant one – sometimes people with the least knowledge and experience bring up very important and meaningful points and they do, as I have said, have the right to speak.  In the same vein, the audience has the right to not listen, but not to talk over them or prevent them from speaking.

America is built on the fight for equality and rights, and one of those rights is expressing your opinion in the political realm.  We must be grateful that we have that right and be respectful to those who may hold different ideas from us, no matter how distasteful we find those ideas.  You can learn from everything, even ideas you dislike or think are wrong.

For myself, I thank all the people who come to village and other meetings and show an interest in what is going on and participate to the best of their ability.  They may not think exactly as I do, but we all want to live a good, peaceful, happy life and it is a better use of our energy to try to find ways we can respect one another and work together.  It may not always work, but if the effort is there, it can work most of the time.  And respect for one another can work all of the time – try it.

So thank you to all who care and find time to attend village meetings and speak up for so many of us who are not there or choose not to speak.  We owe all of you and for myself, I am extremely grateful.

Diane Coffield

Great Neck


About the author

The Island Now

Share this Article