- Written by Mike Martin
Another town boss wants limits on Council testimony
COLUMBIA, Mo 11/20/13 (Analysis) -- "An irritating public is part of our cherished democracy, but must be tempered," Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters tells us, in an editorial yesterday appropriately sub-titled "Curtailing Free Speech".
Millionaire developer and town boss Bob Pugh chided Mayor Bob McDavid for being too permissive with public testimony in a Sunday Trib editorial, which praised a speech-restriction proposal First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt offered in October. So common in middle America they were immortalized in the novel Babbitt, town bosses are select groups of prominent business owners who run local government.
But normally, they do it behind the scenes.
Openly wondering how the bosses might "control these excesses," Waters praises Pugh for speech-restricting rules he imposed during his single term as Columbia Mayor in the late Seventies; and former Mayor Darwin Hindman, for "successfully keeping the visiting public at bay" during Council meetings.
Hindman governed with a "blend of permissiveness and authoritarianism," Waters explains.
But Dr. McDavid is neither Pugh nor Hindman, political charmers who never listened much to the public. McDavid does listen, and has helped turn around decades of boss-driven policy making by using his bully pulpit and key vote against such "WTF moments" as Blight, Ward Gerrymandering, and demolishing historic homes on Providence.
McDavid has not received the private memo on how to cleverly ignore constituents ("he's still finding his way"), so Waters sends it publicly -- and bluntly. His comparisons to McDavid's predecessors are downright insulting.
To corral "pushy speakers," McDavid's "best act will be to follow Pugh's rules with Hindman's demeanor," Waters instructs. Pugh was a "Mayor in control." He knew how to tamp down "excessive loquaciousness among fervent attendees."
"If an additional speaker claims a new argument but reverts to plowed ground, the Mayor can and should cut him off," Waters insists. "This sort of control is best exerted with Hindman's touch."
This is not a journalist talking anymore, but a town boss, and a frustrated one at that. Journalists critique publicly; bosses instruct, usually in private. These public demands -- from two bosses no less -- are therefore extraordinary.
"The Mayor can ask for a show of hands in agreement...The Mayor can reiterate the rule...The Mayor can wield the gavel," Waters instructs.
The irony of a newspaper publisher telling a sitting Mayor how to control free speech is hard to miss. But bossing, after all, can make a man rich. Journalism -- not so much.