Op-Ed: Public Comment Shouldn't have Conditions

This past Monday was the first meeting where NIC President Nick Swayne made his first public appearance since being hired by the college. As one of the many local citizens concerned about the direction of NIC, I decided to give public comment however halfway through I was cut off by Swanye, and campus security was instructed to escort me off the campus.


President Swayne claimed that I was not speaking directly on an item on that evening’s agenda. Which he would be technically correct since I was speaking about the legal authority of Trustees to deem what is acceptable/unacceptable public comment.


At this point, you may detect the irony of the situation at hand.


Before you deem me as one of those radical anarcho-Kaczynskian-types that essentially want zero Government: I am not.


Based on well-established case law from the Idaho Supreme Court (See: Coalition for Responsible Government v. Bonner County), public meetings can either provide a time for public comment, or not.


Those are the only two options. There are no available qualifiers on what is public comment.


When an attempt is made by governmental bodies to make determinations on good/bad public comment it creates a precipitous Constitutional crisis for both the public and the elected officers.


Case in point New York Times v. Sullivan: “This nation is founded on the profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues shall be unihibited, robust, and wide open and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” This was a SCOTUS ruling in 1964, but it’s essentially a redux on what already exists in the First Amendment.


I have seen this kind of soft censorship happening in municipalities like the Post Falls City Council, and Coeur d’Alene City Council where these “regulations” (as we’ll call it) have already metastasized to include a prohibition on any form of criticism against sitting council members, and requirements to provide the commenter’s full name along with address of residence.


The slide towards censorship indeed moves very quickly.


“But wait,” one might say. “Giving the public the right to say anything they want without condition opens a door to endless babblings about the dangers of chemtrails and 5G radio.”


Would that really happen? Believe me when I tell you that spending one’s evening at a government meeting is not a normal person’s idea of a good time.


It is my belief that President Swayne is not qualified for his role. In fact, I am not sure if he even understands his role since normally the President does not assume control of a meeting that is billed as “The Meeting of the North Idaho College Board of Trustees.” As I understand, it is Chairman Wold’s and the Trustees’ job to conduct the meeting – not the President.


The President’s job is to receive direction from the Board of Trustees, and conduct day-to-day operations of the college.


I demand that the Trustees of NIC remove all conditions for providing public comment. Any parameters for public comment can be made but should exist as recommendations.


This article is reprinted with permission from kootenai-rgmt.com