Local governments routinely violate your freedom of speech


Does that headline surprise you? You will see that violation on display at every local government meeting inside Fayette County, every month.

No telling what goes on in other places as elected officials routinely tell citizens attending public meetings what those citizens may and may not talk about to those officials, every one of whom was voted into public office by those very citizens.

I heard it most recently on tape from that clueless Fayette County Board of Commissioners. Already under fire from animal advocates over a $3.2 million animal shelter boondoggle, Commission Chairman Lee Hearn warned an overflow crowd that he would not tolerate any criticism of county employees concerning the botched new animal shelter.

During every public meeting, the Fayette County Board of Education reminds its bosses — the public — who is the real boss: “Remarks should not be addressed to individual board members. Speakers are asked to keep their remarks civil. The use of obscene, profane, vulgar, physically threatening, or abusive remarks will not be allowed. The Board will not permit anyone to become personally abusive to an individual student, board members, board employees, or other speakers. The board will take comments and questions under advisement and responses, if needed, will be provided by the Superintendent.”

Got it? These demigods of education will allow only nice remarks, which they will not respond to or even acknowledge. As a member of the public, you might as well speak your piece into an audio recorder and mail that recording to the board office. You’ll never hear anything from that either.

Maybe a better way would be to put your complaint in a few words on a sign and march around the road in front of the system office. Then we would at least see your name on an arrest report.

The Fayetteville City Council — in my hearing — has likewise warned the public — their bosses — that they will rule out of order and have removed from the meeting room by an armed, uniformed police officer any public speaker who criticizes by name or position any employee of the city. Don’t resist, or you’ll go to jail.

The Peachtree City Council has by official policy forbidden any lowly member of the public from speaking about anything on that day’s public agenda. You can speak about other issues, so long as those issues are not being discussed by the council at that meeting.

Unless it’s an agenda item that by law must include a “public hearing,” the council may or may not allow any public speakers to have their say on other regular agenda items.

You get the drift? The elected officials officially want as little public meeting input as they can legally get away with.

“We would never get anything done if everybody could just talk about anything they wanted to in our meetings,” says my typical elected official. “We can’t have our meetings become complaint sessions from the public,” says my typical elected official #2.

Well, yes, you can and yes, you should. Most of our public officials show up for two official meetings a month. Public officials, bring your seat cushions and your water bottles and prepare to shut up and listen awhile to the people who elected you to your exalted positions.

I contend that’s exactly what you were elected to do. It is your highest duty. And who do you think you are that you can tell a member of the public what he/she can or cannot talk about in a public meeting? We elect regular people to office to listen to us, not to rule as a medieval king would.

That brings me to a second part of that routinely ignored First Amendment: “the right of the people … to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

What better place to speak frankly to government officials elected by you than at their public meeting while they are deciding on what new rules they are about to impose on you?

That is exactly why that meeting has to be public: They are forbidden by law from creating new rules on you while in secret meetings.

OK, after covering and reporting on public officials over a span of 54 years, I have observed a few things about public officials who have been in office two years or more:

1. Most elected officials (not all, but most) don’t want to hear what Joe Public has to say. Most (not all) think that what you have to say comes from a place of ignorance, a lack of understanding of “how things really work,” or conflicts with what those public officials deeply believe is best for you, whether you believe in that “best” or not.

2. Most elected officials (not all) have their agenda, and only a few close friends/supporters actually know what that full agenda really is. Most of the voting public realize after about two years that this official didn’t tell them some important facts that often don’t line up with what the voters thought that official was really about. At that point the newly educated voter comes to a decision point about whether to keep supporting or to oppose this official.

3. Most elected officials (in the high 90-percentile range) will lie at some point about something in the realm of public policy that’s really important to them but that they know will not go over well with the majority of the voting public.

4. Most public officials (maybe close to 99%) don’t want to give up the power of their positions. Absent term limits, they would keep on seeking to keep their positions. This power-seeking has nothing to do with honorable service or high aspirations or even duty. It’s just plain old lust for power.

Call me cynical, call me a realist, call me old and crotchety. After 54 years of seeing it up close, I’m calling it like I’ve seen it.

Those four points above are why elected public officials — for the public good — have to be subject to complaining citizens using their freedom of speech to seek redress of grievances.

And it’s why those local government public officials are morally and constitutionally wrong to tell the voting, taxpaying public what they can and can’t talk about at public meetings. Voters and taxpayers, start standing up for your constitutional rights.

[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993. He covered his first city and government meetings in 1970.]


  1. Mr. Beverly, thank you and I appreciate you writing truth! It seems as though many forget they work for the people and not the other way around. This November is going to be interesting. I wouldn’t get too comfortable Mr. Hearn and Oddo (Rapson is another story!)!!
    You were both elected to represent conservative values and something happened along the way. If the Democrat contenders win, it’s all your fault for not having the backbone needed these days to stand for our freedoms. The people are watching and you both have been a huge disappointment who have not be responsive to your constituents.

  2. Once again our dear editor is wrong, which isn’t surprisingly given that is NOT expert on the 1st Amendment or the US Constitution. As a member of the 4th Estate, Cal and his brand of yellow journalism, falls short of even providing the basics of journalism – who, what, when, where, why, or how. Nor does he present a balanced accounting of tge facts, leaving the reader to reach their own conclusions. Beverly is nothing more than a propagandist.

    • I think I can witness as to what Mr. Beverly is writing and what I think of Mr. Beverly. Two things come to mind:

      1. Who – City Manager agenda item submission to City Council. What – Deleted the provision for “Any person may request to have an item placed on the agenda from the City’s ordinances. The Councilmembers of Peachtree City adopted an amendment to the Peachtree City Administration Ordinance #1206, City Council Meeting Procedures and Rules, Article II, City Council Meeting Procedures and Rules, Section 2-33, Agenda (requests) presented before them on Thursday, March 16, 2023, at the scheduled City Council meeting. At least two Councilmembers were unsure of accepting this change and discussions regarding this change request are noted on the currently published Agenda for March 16, under the City Council Minutes of February 16, 2023, pages 3 to 5. When – After tabeling on March 16, 2023, passed sometime later. Where – City Council Meeting Room (or Chamber). Why – Good question. I have my suspicions. I know our Honorable Mayor apologized to the Clerk for not getting the initial item reading passed. How – The Council finally approved it (sometime later).

      2. Who – City Clerk (at Council’s direction). What – Denied my speaking to the Council on the above agenda item. When – March 16, 2023. Where – City Council Meeting Room (or Chamber). Why – Good question. Council isn’t saying. I have my suspicions. How – Being civil, I cooperated.

      I have known of Mr. Beverly for more than 30 years. I find his publication, “The Citizen” representative of his opinions. I can trust him because I know of his integrity. His online access has often been my only means of knowing the goings on in my hometown when deployed. I think of him as a great American patriot who knows more about the local political environment than anyone other than God. He understands our liberties and the moral courage required to protect our freedoms. He understands the value of public discourse, especially with their government. I think he believes every government activity should be politicalized so the people can make decisions with illuminated and open eyes. I also like someone who promotes “Have Your Say.” Thank you, gplanman. I like to take opportunities to plant a feather in Mr. Beverly’s hat.

    • gplanman – It’s called an OPINION piece for a reason. It represents Mr Beverly’s point of view based on his years of dealing with and reporting on local governments. Lighten up.

      You recently wrote a comment to Steve Brown’s interview with Council Member Brown that we cannot question PTC’s spending because city government is too complex for citizens to understand. Now, you call the editor a “propagandist” for his belief that we should expect our elected representatives to listen to us.

      Madame Mayor, is that you?

  3. Your understanding of the First Amendment (1A) as applied to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment is severely lacking. Yes, the 1A permits citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances. No, this doesn’t mean you have a right to public comment at a meeting. The “redress of grievances” being protected means that you cannot be thrown in prison for what you say to an elected official. To my knowledge, not a single person in Fayette County is this type of political prisoner.

    This is patently obvious if you go up even a single level of government. There is no 1A right to comment under the Gold Dome on any piece of State legislation. There is no 1A right to comment in the DC Capitol building. The 1A protects an individual’s right to speak to their legislators (e.g., via phone, letter, email, even social media), but doesn’t secure a right to speak in the legislative building.

    Beyond that, public comment on specific items that are being voted on is inherently undemocratic and unrepresentative because it is limited to the people with the time to attend council meetings. Just as a hypothetical example, suppose that 60% of an electorate supported a candidate who said they would do item X. If 30 people show up in opposition to item X at public comment, does that necessarily mean that item X doesn’t have support? Of course not! The mandate to pass item X came from the *election result.* It does not and cannot flow from the individuals present at public comment.

    • I disagree with “inherently undemocratic and unrepresentative.” People with something to say will make the “way” to say it. The only governing application is “who” controls the “where” and often with that, the “when.” Whereas we are dealing with elected officials’ acts of responsibility (or irresponsibility), the “means” controls the “where.” Many may argue the “means” is fallible and subject to challenge. Of course, I have been harping about this for about seven or eight months, and I can assure you there’s more to follow.