“Written Questions Only” aka Rigging Public Meetings

In additional to being trained in counter-Delphi tactics (see here) one of the tactics Copperhead teaches in our training class on rolling back local government is what to do when local government boards are holding a public hearing and they announce they will take questions 'in writing only on the postcards we hand out'.  It's clear to most what they are up to.  It is much simpler for them to thwart genuine public criticism of the issue up for question by controlling the questioning process.  The Chair of the board or one of his/her lackeys can edit out the 'uncomfortable' hardball printed questions and leave mostly softball questions for the board to hit out of the park.  Copperhead has seen it where several members of the public all ask the same tough question on their cards, yet never is this same question read aloud during the public hearing. What's worse, is when the questioner does read the question, he gets to "interpret" the question as he wants it to read.

Here's how you stop it or at least seriously discredit them, such that the public leaves more distrustful of (or outright opposing) the proposal than they did before they came.  Someone should be ready the moment the Chair is done announcing the rule to stand up and say, "Before we get started I'd like to appeal the board's rule and ask you to consider a true Town Hall format." (Most in the audience will see this as a respectful and reasonable way to briefly interrupt the Agenda.)  But do not skip a beat – keep on talking and say, "I think we'd all benefit from the spontaneity of hearing the question from each member of the public (Note: body language is import here, turn and point with a sweeping motion to the seated public) and your responses and maybe their follow-up question/rebuttal. I'm certain that no one here will grand-stand with the mic. And honestly, it makes me a bit nervous that you get to decide which of the questions are going to be read aloud. There may be a great question someone here (continue pointing with a sweeping motion to the audience) has thought of that none of the rest of us have even considered, but if you decide to throw it out we'll never be the wiser."

If they respond with, "Well we're doing it to make sure there are no duplicate questions," you can reply with – "Isn't that kind of an insult to us in the audience?  I seriously doubt that after one of us asks a question, that someone next to him is going to stand up and ask the exact same question again."

Such reasoning backs them into a corner. Either they are going to run rough-shod over the appeal and show themselves fearful of reasonable public criticism of their agenda item – and as a result, cast serious doubt if not discredit themselves and the issue for most of those in the audience – or they will grant your appeal and you'll get your open Town Hall forum.  Candidly, most local elected bodies nearly despise such. 

And if they refuse your appeal it may not hurt to have a friend or two come for one purpose – that is, to make the point clear to those who may not understand what is happening.  He/she should stand up in a huff and while heading for the door loudly announce – "This meeting looks rigged to me!  I'm leaving.  Who wants to stay and listen if the public can't really get their questions asked?!"  Then walk out.  Another one or two following him/her, mumbling "he's right, it's rigged",  will be the exclamation mark to the point!

Try it the next time you hear "written questions only"!

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