Nowhere is the raw power of our Constitution’s First Amendment more earnestly practiced than in thousands of town halls across the land every time a citizen steps up to the podium to say his piece.
That also is where reality television can be seen at its rawest, as town meetings are televised to the local populace. All the familiar production values of reality TV are there in full color: a familiar cast of characters (the “regulars” who have something to say about everything and anything); remarks that are scripted (by speakers clutching papers they read from) and unscripted (by people speaking off the cuff); protagonists and antagonists; people you root for and people you root against. The only thing missing (on government access channels) are commercials. Shucks! Hey, you can’t have everything.
As a devoted viewer of town board meetings in my own burg, my guilty pleasure, pathetic as it may be, is to daydream what it might be like if elected officials at the dais and citizens at the podium let loose and said what truly was on their minds during those exchanges. Think of it as “Town Board Meetings Unplugged (or Unglued).”
My mind wandered to an imaginary scenario not unlike this one…
Citizen Z: Hi, you don’t know who I am, nor do you need to know who I am. But I do desperately need you to know that I have been living in this town for—drum roll, please—37 years, nine months, three weeks, one day and 11 hours.
Councilperson A: But who’s counting?! (laughs)
Citizen Z: Excuse me, sir?
Councilperson A: It was a joke. Chill out.
Citizen Z: With no disrespect, sir, you—“sir”—you are the joke!
Councilperson A: I will take a wild guess and conjecture you did not vote for me?
Citizen Z: Conjecture?! You would do such a lewd act in a public forum? Shame on you.
Councilperson A: Let me just say that I, myself, have lived in this town longer than you.
Citizen Z: How long would that be, may I ask?
Councilperson A: You may, and that would be 37 years, nine months, three weeks, one day and 12 hours.
Citizen Z: Aha! Only one hour longer than me. Your point being…?
Councilperson A: My point being that however long I have lived here has no bearing on the weight of my opinion. Someone who moved here yesterday is entitled to no less consideration of her opinion than someone who moved here 50 years ago yesterday.
Citizen Z: That is an insult to all those who have given their best years to live in this town. In fact, if this board had any respect at all for people like me, you would grant one minute of time at the podium for every year the speaker has lived here.
Councilperson A: And how would that brainstorm of yours work for a 40-year resident?
Citizen Z: That’s simple to resolve. The speaker wouldn’t have to use all his allotted minutes in one turn at the podium. Unused minutes would be banked, and at the end of the year, those unused minutes would convert to credits used for a reduction in taxes. In fact, that tax incentive would be a motivation for people like me to spend less time up here telling you how to run the town.
Councilperson A: Well, why didn’t I think of that.
Citizen Z: Because you’re a nincompoop.
Councilperson A: Well, nincompoops like me were elected by nattering nabobs like you. By the way, you’re putting me to sleep. No wonder your name is ZZZ.
Citizen Z: It’s spelled with one Z, and now I know what the “A” stands for in your name.
Councilperson A: Time’s up. Next!
Citizen Y: Good evening, ladies and germs.
Councilperson B: Oh, no. You again? You’ve been up here five times already tonight. Why?
Citizen Y: You know why. I’m your friendly gadfly, or unfriendly gadfly—depending on whether or not I voted for you.
Councilperson B: As they say, fifth time’s the charm, even for the charmless. How can we help you this time, Y?
Citizen Y: I have just one question.
Councilperson B: Shoot! Figuratively speaking.
Citizen Y: Why?
Councilperson B: Why what?
Citizen Y: Why everything you do? In this case, why did you just now vote nay on the resolution to hire a commissioner of pothole management. That desperately needed measure would have passed without your naysaying.
Councilperson B: I am happy to tell you why I voted nay: because I am a horse of a different color. That, plus I damn well felt like it.
Citizen Y: I have a right to know why. I am prepared to stand here—and go on a hunger strike, if need be—until I get the answer I deserve as a taxpayer and honorary Gadfly Laureate.
Councilperson B: And I have a right to not explain or defend myself to someone who did not vote for me.
Citizen Y: It is unpatriotic to refuse a citizen his due process.
Councilperson B: I think most people in this town, including Judge Aaron, would disagree with you on that bizarre assertion.
Citizen Y: I think you’re wrong about that.
Councilperson B: Well, then, let’s run it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes! Is that patriotic enough for you, Citizen Y-zenheimer?
Citizen Y: Why do you always argue with me?
Councilperson B: Why do you always have to offer your two cents on every move we make?
Citizen Y: Why don’t you get that’s what freedom of speech is all about?
Councilperson B: Except when you shout the proverbial “Fire!” in a movie theater. There is such a thing as abuse of freedom of speech.
Citizen Y: I agree. Such as when you respond to comments from the floor by citizens even when a question is not asked.
Councilperson B: That’s my freedom of speech. Being an elected official doesn’t mean I give that up.
Citizen Y: No, but you always have to have the last word.
Councilperson B: No. That’s you, not me.
Citizen Y: I want my mommy.
Councilperson B: Who’s your daddy?
Citizen Y: Hopefully, not you.
Councilperson B: I move that the meeting be adjourned.
Councilperson C: I second.
Mayor: So moved!
Citizen Y: Why?
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 914-275-6887.