Freedom Watch

Air Your Grievances, But No Air Time in Portsmouth

January 08, 2013

From The Virginian-Pilot

Original article available here

City Council meetings this year will likely appear shorter, and a little less colorful, thanks to a recent decision to edit certain speakers out of rebroadcasts.

Starting Tuesday, residents who speak about topics not on the agenda will no longer be seen on Portsmouth Channel TV or the city's website.

Councilman Bill Moody Jr. said some members felt the forum was too often used for personal attacks and rarely provided "constructive criticism."

"I really didn't see the harm in showing them," he said. "But a lot of the members thought it was time for a change."

Mayor Kenny Wright did not return calls for comment Friday. Nor did Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas, who has been a vocal supporter of such a move in the past.

New Councilman Danny Meeks said the change is a good idea. He said the rule should limit personal attacks on the council.

"You can still voice your grievance," he said. "We're just not going to air your five minutes of bashing."

The new rule was made public Thursday. Moody, who does not support the measure, said the decision was made during work sessions last year, and no official vote was taken.

Norfolk and Virginia Beach also do not rebroadcast the nonagenda portion of meetings.

Speakers during council meetings generally fall into two categories: agenda and nonagenda. Agenda speakers attend meetings to comment on issues before the council. Nonagenda speakers can discuss anything they want.

Clyde Toler said he thinks the rule is aimed at him and a half-dozen other council regulars.

Toler, 86, said he has attended nearly every meeting since 1984, often using the nonagenda segment to lecture council members on spending habits.

"I don't care if they put a camera on me, but the truth is they are the ones who shouldn't be on TV," he said. "They're the ones who are disrespectful and fight with one another."

Joe Wright, another council regular, said he thinks the new rule will cause the public to miss some important issues.

"Yes, some people use that time to showboat," he said. "But a lot of the time, people bring up new issues. Important issues. And when that is shown on TV, it could lead to finding other people with similar problems."

For Helen Person, the change means she will not see the entire meeting. The 82-year-old has arthritis and can't attend the meetings.

"We depend on this to see. We don't want to half see it - we want to see it all the way," she said.