November 29, 2012 | Volume 42, No.48

Watch the line on public comments

There is a line between public comments critical of a public employee’s job performance and comments about the person her/himself. During recent public comment sections of assembly meetings, I feel that I have allowed some speakers to cross that line and I apologize. When the line is crossed, we all experience discomfort. I do not want the assembly chambers to become associated in anyone’s mind with a place where personal attacks are in any way acceptable.

I believe that the line between a statement of complaint about job performance and a personal attack is crossed because it is not a “bright line;” it is easy to miss it. This is especially true because we all highly value the right to speak. But it is one thing to speak freely about a job that one believes is being done irregularly or even improperly; it is quite another to call the person doing the job “a liar” or “incompetent.” The latter, especially when it is repeatedly stated, comes perilously close to harassment.

My job is to use my gavel, not to stop the comment from coming forward, but to ask the commentator to refrain. I will try not to miss the mark in the future, and we can all try to speak to points, not people. Thank you.

Stephanie Scott

Mayor, Haines Borough