We often hear about the consequences of laws and how they affect our freedoms. I believe we all have a responsibility to respect the rights of others, and that includes their desire to express their passion about issues. Throughout history, laws and rules have been passed, and then conveniently interpreted or abused by those in charge.

Protecting freedom of expression was never guaranteed prior to the passage of the Bill of Rights, a document that complemented our amazing Constitution. Those documents secured privacy protections, due process, and that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. In many countries a person is assumed guilty until proven innocent.

About three years ago many local citizens realized that the leadership in Clackamas County was ignoring the economic conditions and spending in a manner that was unsustainable.

The sudden appearance of average citizens at commission and city-council meetings was met with resistance by many of those who were elected when the public was not informed and aware.

In December of 2010, former County Chairwoman Lynn Peterson disrupted a meeting and attempted to a have a political opponent arrested without cause. Apparently she hadn’t carefully read and understood the Constitution prior to taking office. Soon after that she spearheaded an effort to create rules (laws) that banned acceptable forms of expression such as applause and displaying signs. Outraged citizens, joined by Commissioner Paul Savas, understood the intent of Peterson’s agenda, and the proposal was soon tabled. Peterson left the commission in March of 2011 and was replaced by soft-spoken Jamie Damon in May.

In the summer of 2011 a local shopping center developer began regularly testifying at the board meetings after being fined for a code violation when no code existed. Amazing.

Soon he began asking questions during the meetings, an action that shed light on the abuse of power that he and others had received. It wasn’t long before the new Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan and others proposed an updated version of Peterson’s proposal. Included in the “rules” was a statement that citizens were not allowed to ask the commissioners questions.

As a regular participant in the meetings I join him in expressing my angst over the idea. Refusing to answer legitimate questions was bad enough, but denying the freedom to ask them was outrageous and unconstitutional. We engaged in a several week legal battle that resulted in a “win for freedom of speech.”

On April 5, 2012, the same man appeared at a meeting that was run by commissioner Jim Bernard. Bernard ordered that the three-minute time clock be started, even thought the citizen hadn’t started speaking. Bernard refused to reset the clock. The frustrated citizen announced that he was going to conduct a silent protest. Bernard reacted by having him ejected by a police officer. At the end of the meeting Bernard described himself as being courageous, and the victim as a bully.

John Ludlow defeated Lehan in the November election, and became the new chairperson in January. He responds to questions and conducts the meetings in an open manner. Unfortunately the once dead proposal for excluding citizens from public buildings is back on the agenda. In turn, many citizens have responded to the proposal, primarily because it creates a slippery slope that invites future misinterpretations. Once again Commissioner Savas has expressed concerns about the concept.

None of the citizens are opposed to a policy that addresses criminal activity, obscenity or threatening behavior. We understand the need to preserve safety in public buildings.

We are hopeful that the commissioners will reconsider any policy or ordinance that goes beyond the need to provide it. Any citizen or government employee should contact the police if a citizen is out of control or a threat to society. We don’t need another layer of rules, and our rights violated, for that to occur.

Our freedoms are precious, and we won’t allow them to continue slip sliding away.

Les Poole is a resident of Gladstone.

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