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Use free speech, not Robert's Rules

November 10, 2006

Member to the Charles Town (W.Va.) City Council: Robert's Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure is a book of rules designed to keep meetings running smoothly.

It was not designed to restrict the speech of members of the bodies that use it outside of their official meetings.

Some council members want to do that because Robert's Rules states that elected officials should debate issues and not get involved in personality conflicts.

What personality conflict? Some council members are irked because Matt Ward, a member of council, said on a local radio station that developers had financed council members' campaigns. And, Ward said, those developers were now petitioning the city for development approvals.

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Geraldine Willingham, a member of the council, said that Ward is insinuating that council members are crooked. Ward denied that.

After a motion to censure Ward failed, the council voted to ask the West Virginia Attorney General if Robert's Rules can be used to control Ward.

We'd be surprised if the council won that point. Who would run for office if they couldn't freely express themselves in public?

However, the free expression of speech isn't limited to Ward. Those council members upset at him are free to demonstrate that he's wrong by showing the public lists of their contributors.

If none of the developers seeking approval are on those lists, that will silence Ward more effectively than Robert's Rules ever could.

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