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@rick rick/gist:119957
Created May 29, 2009

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Esteemed members of the Metro Planning Commission:
I am writing to thank you for your patience and diligence during the
prolonged and heated Bells Bend / May Town Center zoning process. I
am also writing to express my concern over the actions taken by a
particular member of the Planning Commission during his regulation of
the process of the public hearing itself.
Early in the evening it became clear that supporters and opponents
of the May Town Center were repeatedly holding aloft large signs, in
obstruction of the views of those sitting in the meeting room behind
them. The Commissioner requested that attendees refrain from holding
aloft such signs, "so that those in the rear of the room can view the
proceedings." A later instruction to "not hold up signs" was given
along those same lines. This seems a reasonable request, geared
toward the public interest, in a manner which probably does not overly
constrain the expression of citizens.
Later in the evening, as it became possible for those of us in the
overflow room to join the line to the speaker's podium, I entered the
rear of the room, where I stood for some 20 minutes, holding a 2 foot
sign at my chest. As I was at the rear of the room, and not holding
aloft my sign -- in fact I was simply carrying a sign I had in my
possession all evening -- I was not obstructing the view of anyone in
attendance.
After roughly 20 minutes, the Councilman noticed that I was in
possession of a sign -- at the rear of the room, with the sign not
being held aloft -- and declared for all to hear that I "might not
have been here earlier" and that "there are to be no signs". That is,
that no signs were allowed in the meeting room. Out of interest for
the continuation of the drawn-out public hearing process, and despite
the abundance of other signs clearly visible in the room, I placed my
sign under a chair and remained in line at the rear of the room.
Presuming this is an isolated mistake prompted by weary nerves in a
seemingly interminable meeting, I wished to merely bring this incident
to your attention.
However, I want to make it clear that the Commissioner overstepped
his bounds by insisting to that no signage at all be allowed in the
hearing room, much less enforcing such a restriction on only one of
many in the room.
We citizens have a First Amendment Constitutional right to express
our opinions, especially in a public forum such as this. This is not
limited to 2 minute allocations of time at a podium, governed by
signup sheet, after we are forced to provide photo identification (all
of which were preconditions at this hearing). Our right to expression
is not limited to verbal speech, and we are certainly not granted the
right to expression by the imprimatur of a low-level government
appointee.
A number of speakers last night, including a 4-term Metro
Councilman, made strong statements implying that certain members of
the Planning Commission had taken an "activist" stance, were working
at the behest of developers, and are working directly against the
wishes of the constituents they are required to serve. In short the
implication is that corruption is at work. It could be, then, that my
particular sign, which read "I am here for free, who paid *you* to be
here," struck too close to home for the Planning Commissioner in
question.
Whether or not that hits near the heart of the issue, I am placing
you on notice that should Commissioners in the future place restraint
upon the First Amendment rights of citizens in a public hearing that
my first stop will not be to draft a letter. I will instead be
working with legal counsel to file a lawsuit against the City of
Nashville to protect our First Amendment rights against the predations
of Commissioners who have forgotten their legal boundaries, the
citizens who are the wellspring of their limited power, and even their
Mission.
Optimistically,
Rick Bradley / 5001 Indiana Ave. / Nashville, TN 37209 / (615) 463-8085
cc: editor, The Tennessean
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