When first amendment rights are employed and respected, we all benefit

Tribune Editorial 

        About 80 town residents attended a public hearing last week addressing a proposed emergency ordinance that would prohibit construction of any multi-unit housing within a mile of Terry’s town limits for the next six months. From that number, nearly 20 regular folks stood up in front of their peers and spoke out either for or against the ordinance. Clearly, the number of those against the ordinance, in its current wording, outweighed those who supported it — resulting in the council’s decision to rework the ordinance into a more palatable measure. A new interim ordinance, dealing with primarily the same issue, is expected within the next few weeks. The draft will be made available for the public to view and another public hearing will be scheduled, allowing residents to once again voice their opinions. 

It’s democracy in action and its outcome will likely benefit us all.
During Thursday’s evening meeting opinions were shared, voices heard and questions asked. And all of this was done, by regular Terry folks. Some who spoke, spoke off-the-cuff and from the heart, sharing with council members how words like “transient” used in the emergency ordinance to describe oil-field workers, left an off-putting sentiment to those working in the industry. Others who spoke had researched state statute, raising questions that hadn’t been considered — like how long the emergency ordinance could remain in effect in Terry, which under state law is far beyond the initial 6-month timeframe.
Some who spoke, spoke passionately, raising their voices. Others were soft-spoken. Some were long-time residents of Terry, natives of the area. Others were newcomers. But regardless of what hat each resident wore, the manner of speech utilized or the behind-the-scenes effort made before the evening meeting, the essential element of Thursday evening’s meeting was simply this — people cared enough to speak.
Regular Terry folks cared enough to leave their homes and spend their Thursday evening at Terry Town Hall. They cared enough to share their opinions and thoughts in front of others — an action that isn’t necessarily a comfortable or easy task to take. 
Rather than hunkering down into an “us-against them” mentality, council persons opted to listen to their constituents. Terry Town Council persons heard their concerns and took them seriously, ultimately deciding against moving forward with their intention to vote on the emergency ordinance. Instead they agreed to rework the ordinance, in the hopes of creating one that better reflected the needs and desires of the community they represent.
It was democracy in action and it was an admirable process to watch.
Is it perfect? No. Are there flaws in the process? Yes. Do all personalities perfectly mesh with one another? Of course not. But above and beyond our personal feelings of one another, our subtle or overt prejudices, and far beyond our personal annoyances is the significance of what Thursday’s meeting represents. It illustrates the ultimate purpose and importance our first amendment rights possess in a democratic government. 
The voices of the people were heard and their representatives listened. It wasn’t one man who spoke and it wasn’t five representatives choosing what is best for Terry. It was Terry residents meeting with Terry representatives, wading through concerns and opinions. It was Terry working for Terry — and that’s commendable on all accounts. 

Published Nov. 2, 2011

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