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Councilman Defends Freedom of Speech in Public Meetings

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To the Editor:

The U.S. Supreme Court has written that traditional public forums are those that “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens and discussing public questions."

Public streets and parks are the quintessential example.

The court has also determined that Township Council meetings are not traditional public forums and may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expression. However, that does not mean the Township Council or its attorney may restrict the questions and opinions expressed by members of the public.

At the April 9 Parsippany Township Council meeting, the township attorney prevented a resident from asking questions that some may not have wanted to hear. At township meetings the council may restrict speech “as long as the restrictions are reasonable and are not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view."

I don't believe the restrictions placed on the resident at the April 9 meeting were reasonable at all. The resident should have been able to speak during her allotted time.

It is no fluke that freedom of speech is the First Amendment. The founding fathers knew that democracy would fail without it. The importance of free speech remains evident today. Countries that protect free speech thrive; countries that suppress it fail.

Salman Rushdie wrote, "Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game, free speech is life itself."

Public officials have an unwritten contract with members of the public. I believe that contract was broken at the April 9 meeting by the township attorney. His actions do not represent the opinion of this councilman.

Councilman Jonathan Nelson
Powder Mill 

steeldoor April 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Nelson is an aimless trouble maker. Hasn't it occurred to anyone that maybe the Mayor was advised not to answer such questions? If there is or possibly will be an investigation going on, answering would not be the smartest thing. Pat should just take a midol and sit back and wait.
Mike P April 10, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Troublemaker? He stated pretty much what everyone is thinking. Maybe the mayor was advised not to answer any questions. So what. The point is that John Inglesino usurped his authority and never allowed Pat Pettacia to say or ask anything. The mayor has as much right not to answer as much as Pat has to ask.
Natalie Davis April 10, 2013 at 11:16 PM
That's right. I often say it's my job to ask, but I cannot force anyone to answer. That's their right. steeldoor, shame on you. "Take a Midol?" What is this, 1954???
John P Hanover April 11, 2013 at 12:26 AM
So basically the author is OK using town council meetings as a political forum - which was the obvious intent. The biggest problem with politicians is they'd rather play politics to get elected than do the job they were elected to do.
Mike P April 11, 2013 at 12:48 AM
John Hanover, Parsippany Councilmen are elected to represent the people of Parsippany, even the ones who make statements or ask questions they may not want to hear. If you want to accuse anyone of political posturing, there is only one person to blame. John Inglesino, the township attorney. I'm actually curious to know how the other Councilmen feel about what happened

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