We wouldn’t blame Harford County Council President Richard Slutzky if he left Tuesday night’s council meeting feeling like Little Jack Horner.
It was the first night for the council’s newly enforced policy limiting citizen speakers to three minutes, or five if they represent an organization, and the policy got an immediate stern test. Ten people signed up to speak as opposed to the usual two to four regulars.
Slutzky patiently explained how the recently revised rules on speaking would work. He held up a hand-drawn, “very artistic” 30-second sign and said he would use it to alert a speaker when they had 30 seconds left, so they could wrap up.
He advised those who signed up that it would “OK to say ditto” if they agreed with an earlier speaker, but could also continue speaking to their limit. He also said he would not cut someone off in mid-sentence and there would be some flexibility, at his discretion, on the time.
Things went along beautifully. The first speaker, council regular John Mallamo, spoke the shortest, reminding the council again of its duties in zoning matters and warning he will have more to say at future meetings.
Two people from the local business community urged the council to get involved in the Ripken Stadium management controversy. The rest were from northern Harford communities upset about the Transource power line project.
All in all it was a good experience, the council president said, one lasting just under 30 minutes.
“I want to thank this audience,” he said. “We have had many people come before this council who remind us of some of the discord that’s going on across the country, where there’s name calling and accusations and divisions between on ideology or the other. But this has been such a respectful audience who presented so well on behalf of your issues and your community, that I just want to congratulate you for that, and you represent Harford County in the best possible manner.”
While we remain opposed to time limits and the muzzling actions of a public body, whose members ought to be able to sit and listen to what their constituents have to say, Slutzky at least showed he can be both disarming and charming when he wants to be. And, he didn’t have to eat any crow doing it – not yet, anyway.