Robeson County ranks near the bottom on every list of “good” things. Unfortunately, they’re near the top of lists of the bad. Some of those bad things include violent crime, election stealing, and political corruption.
Gerome Chavis and his ‘We The People’ group of grassroots activists have been shaking things up hard and fast in and around the county. The group played a crucial role in the election of political outsider and underdog Burnis Wilkins to the office of sheriff. Currently, Chavis and his crew are targeting the county’s board of commissioners — the state’s HIGHEST PAID.
The majority on the board hasn’t been appreciative of the tough questioning coming from Chavis and his merry band. They sought out and GOT a restraining order keeping Chavis away from any and all meetings involving commissioners, as well as from any individual commissioner he may encounter in public.
On Monday, a district court judge in Lumberton reviewed the restraining order and opined that it would not hold up under further judicial review. Upon hearing that news, county leaders backed away from the whole restraining order idea.
As expected, the county commissioners were not about to just let things drop. They’re instituting new, tougher rules for the public comment period at their board meetings:
The Robeson County Board of Commissioners now have some legal teeth to control public comment, adding a provision that violators can be charged with a misdemeanor.
The revised rules were not discussed in the open session of Monday’s board meeting because they were part of the consent agenda, which is normally voted up or down without comment.
However, a copy of the new rules obtained after the meeting by The Robesonian show they address people engaging in personal attacks and in name calling, using abusive threatening or disruptive language and people making defamatory remarks directed at specific public officials or county employees. The new rules grants the board chairman the power to forfeit the speaker’s remaining time if the speaker engages in disruptive behavior and to order to speaker removed from the meeting. If a speaker is removed from the meeting, the county can pursue a Class 2 misdemeanor charge against the speaker.
Gary Locklear, interim county attorney, said a charge would have to be filed in court and a warrant issued for the violator’s arrest.
“They won’t necessarily get arrested on site,” he said. “Someone with the county would have to go to the magistrate, get the name and address of individual, and that they refused to leave the meeting, and that’s when they violated the statute.”
The new rules were necessary, Locklear said.
“There’s got to be some way to preserve decorum,” he said. “You can’t just let people come in and take over. That statue is one way of stopping that.”
Gerome Chavis, the face of the We the People movement, was escorted from the Nov. 19 meeting while speaking during the public comment period for being disruptive and alleging criminal wrongdoing by a county employee.
Locklear said that incident prompted the need for stronger rules.
“He has a lot to do with it,” Locklear said of Chavis. “The rules they had were adopted many years ago and didn’t have teeth in them. Folks should not just be able to call out county employees by name. We are trying to bring some civility to the process.”
Ah, “civility.” John Hood must be so proud.
Far too often, “civility” is hauled out there to hamstring one side in a political debate while the other side runs roughshod and rampant. I still think this might be worth a look from the First Amendment Clinic at Duke Law School. (Just saying.)