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Memo to council: Let people speak

March 12, 2014 - 2:30pm

They might not like what you have to say, but they have to let you say it.

That’s the gist of a memo sent out last week to Hawaii County Council members following an incident at the Feb. 19 council meeting where a testifier was cut off when he attempted to criticize Monsanto Corp. and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi for supporting genetically modified crops.

The March 7 memo, signed by County Clerk Stewart Maeda and Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida, clarifies for council members that testifiers are allowed to speak within their time limit, but they may be warned if they are using profanity or screaming or yelling while testifying. If a warning is not heeded, the testifiers can then be cut off, the memo states.

“This is a reminder that the public has a right to criticize specific Council member(s), so long as the public testimony is related to an agenda item,” the memo says. “A good rule to remember is this: ‘We should not regulate the content of speech, but we may regulate the manner of speech.’”

The memo was requested by Vice Chairwoman Karen Eoff, who was chairing the meeting where, bowing to pressure from other council members, she interrupted, then cut off testifier Jim Albertini before his three minutes were up.

Eoff said Wednesday that some of the confusion was caused by a poor videoconference link between Hilo, where Albertini was testifying, and Kona, where the council members were holding their meeting.