Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Booing, hissing and name calling

We aren't talking about children on a playground. 
We are talking about members of the public at a County Council hearing. 

Being able to present public comment on issues before our elected leaders is one of jewels of our system of government: the ability to speak, and to be heard.

As part of the right of the public to be heard it is the responsibility to the presider of the public forums to make sure that all participants are given their opportunity to speak.  Many, many times we have seen the presider at public forums bang the gavel to remind the audience to respect the time of the speaker. Audience members are admonished to refrain from clapping, talking and loud comments. That did not appear to happen at last night's County Council hearing.  

We may not all agree on issues, but we should all agree to allow each person their chance to have the floor to speak.  And when audience members forget to respect the speaker's time, the presider of the meeting is the appropriate person to remind the audience.

Did County Council President Nancy Floreen ever remind the audience at last night's hearing to respect the speakers' time?  


  1. As a supporter of the Berman Hebrew Academy who firmly believes that the County must honor the agreement, I was personally embarrassed by the behavior of those segments of the audience in attendance who loudly booed speakers. Granted, making innuendo and trying to attack the school by attaching the name of a notorious local convicted member of the Jewish community was beyond reprehensible, and the person who did this was harshly criticized and silenced by the Council-but he still had the right to speak without interruption and clearly audible crowd reaction. This was a Public Hearing, and not a wrestling match. The applause really didn't effect the testimony of the opposition, although I imagine it didn't make them feel very good. This is a very contentious issue for many. Nevertheless, booing is definitely bad form, very bad form and I was surprised that President Floreen permitted it. On behalf of those members of the community who did not behave appropriately for such a forum, I apologize.

  2. Anonymous,thank you for your apology. Please identify yourself. Drew Powell, who made the connections, was treated harshly by the audience, as were others who did not mention the very real connections and background of how this unusual lease was formulated and put in place. So, the excuse that the only person that was booed was the speaker who discussed the history of this unusual lease, does not really hold water. We were all booed and hissed at. It was a disgusting display to be blamed squarely on the shoulders of the Jewish community that apparently has come together to support this sale, at any cost.

    I was there testifying on behalf of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. The Federation is opposed to this sale. When I left the auditorium, I was accosted by people who called me 'anti-Semite' and 'self-loathing Jew.' This is reprehensible. This audience did not believe that the people in our county who oppose the sale have a right to speak.

    Anonymous, if you think this is wrong, tell the Jewish Federation and the other Jewish organizations that went into this either blindly or knowing full well what this community is capable of. The citizens of this county should receive a public apology from the Jewish Federation. I am waiting.
    Thank you.
    Paula Bienenfeld

  3. Now the County Council staff can be booed because they also recommend against the sale.

  4. Booing and hissing is never appropriate, but the description on this thread is overstated. There was some booing - wrongly but understandably given the undeniable anti-Semitic overtones of Mr. Powell's remarks. Mr. Powell attempted to connect the Academy to unnamed "special interests", solely on the basis apparently that those special interests were Jewish, or so it sounded from his remarks. The booing was quickly hushed by other members of the audience, and the vast majority of the evening proceeded without incident. I can't speak to Ms. Bienenfeld's experience, other than to note that she certainly did not seem cowed by the experience. Is it possible an isolated few behaved in the way she suggested? Certainly. But to tar the entire "audience," in her words, with that behavior is wrong and unfortunate.

    (Janis, would appreciate it if you would post this.)

  5. Behnam,

    Really? Overstated? Cyril Draffin was booed among OTHERS. Bet you didn't even notice. Mr. Draffin has a long history of advocating for preserving public school sites for use by public school students.

    But that didn't matter, his presentation was interrupted by AUDIBLE booing from the audience without any admonishment from the Chair.

    Let's cut to the chase. Anyone who had an alternative view was subject to booing and interruption by the audience. That took away from the 2 or 3 minutes they had the floor.

    Yesterday, the interests of your one private school had the floor at a Council hearing for well over 30 minutes. Your attorney alone spoke for 18 minutes straight uninterrupted.

    Where was the "attorney" for the interests of the public school children yesterday? Where was their rebuttal? You know it wasn't there.

    The members of the public don't have that kind of access to the floor at Council hearings.

  6. Janis, first, we have no "attorney." Both Larry Stern and I are attorneys in our day jobs, but neither of us is a land-use lawyer, and both of us are lay leaders at the school who volunteered our time. We received no special consideration in terms of time - we were not there as "members of the public," but as the contracting party with the County.

    The Board of Education and MCPS both were represented and spoke at length.

    It is amazing to me that you continue to exaggerate the atmosphere at the hearing. Mr. Draffin was booed ONCE, when he made a disparaging remark at the crowd being "bussed in" as if we were not all MoCo residents entitled as citizens to attend the hearing. The entire purchase effort was a grass-roots endeavor, with thousands of emails, letters and calls in support - not just from Academy parents but from a broad cross-section of the community.

    Attempts to paint it otherwise are simply disingenuous.

  7. Behnam,

    And how many times were YOU booed in the extended periods that you have sat at the Council table in the last few weeks?

    Please give a count of the total minutes of time you have had to speak at the Council table and the number of times you were interrupted by audience members.


  8. Janis, considering that there were 500 Montgomery County citizens who had come to express support for the purchase and, I don't know, maybe 10 who were there to oppose, it is not surprising that there were no interruptions the other way. What was surprising - and disappointing - was that you and others can defend Mr. Powell's remarks - remarks that reflected the worst sort of stereotyping and bias by seeking to impute wrongdoing to the Academy based solely on the religious (or apparent religious) affiliations of others.

    That was not simply my reaction; it apparently was the reaction of the Council as well, judging by the remarks of Council President Floreen and Councilmembers Berliner and Leventhal.

    My remarks - which I worked on extensively before the hearing - were under 3 minutes in length. I went over my time only because I felt the need to respond to Mr. Powell's aspersions. I'm not sure how you could claim any harm as a result.

  9. @ readers -

    The answer to the question I posed is zero. Mr. Dayanim was never booed despite the fact that there were people in the audience that disagreed with his statements and position. He was allowed to speak without interruption.

  10. Benham,

    Sorry, I have been at too many public hearings to know that booing is not done and interruptions are not tolerated. Trying to impose booing on people that weren't at the meeting doesn't cut it.

    Your remarks were under 3 minutes? Which day? You were sitting at the Council table yesterday speaking directly to the Council without a time limit.

    I didn't see any public school parents at the Council table yesterday. I didn't see any MCCPTA representative or any Civic Federation representative.

    The Board of Education President walked up to the table on her own - she was never invited by the Council.

    You had a prime seat and extensive access to the Council members through private meetings. At least that's what the Council members said.

    How many public school parents had that access? Oh, wait - they didn't even know this deal was in the works until a few weeks ago.

    Exactly WHEN did you have all of these private
    meetings with Council members? Exactly WHEN did you begin lobbying the Council? Was it before the Board of Education even knew this deal was in the works? Surprise really is an effective tool. Congrats on excellent use!

    What is the date for the review by the Board of Public Works?

  11. Now that we know that the Berman Academy was specifically trying to purchase this property "quietly" the interruption of speakers opposed to this plan is even more disturbing.

    The public wasn't supposed to know that this plan was in the works, and when they did know they weren't to oppose it.


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