Didn’t Speak Out At The Meeting? Then Shut Up!

There exists an emergent trend in the local discourse these days, and it goes something like this: if you oppose something, but didn’t say so on the record at the meeting where it was discussed, then your ideas are not credible, and you need to shut up.

It’s an amusing fallacy that, while rhetorically effective to some, should be rightfully vilified as logically bankrupt by all.

Witness the hectoring from GFPS educator Kimberly Clark:

Notwithstanding the irony of Clark’s lecture on “keyboard warriors” from her keyboard, to Tryon’s point, some folks simply can’t get there. They’re at work!

To a degree, I appreciate the sentiment: it is more impactful to show up to a meeting and speak your peace. But that doesn’t work for everyone.

Many folks find public meetings uncomfortable. This is a small town, and to be candid, some of our local bodies are historically not the most friendly. (Anyone remember Dona Stebbins?) A lot of folks are understandably not in love with the notion of going “on the record” and taking a position where they, their business(es), and/or their children could be met with reprisals. I get it. And many people just aren’t natural public speakers.

Thankfully, in our ever-changing Republic, folks do have a voice — online, via social media, and on forums like E-City Beat.

Consider this: of the 250+ different servers who view our blog, Great Falls Public Schools delivers the fourth most views. That’s huge! While it is on one hand amusing that our educators and administrators read ECB’s content on our, the taxpayers’ dime on District-tethered devices (and that doesn’t count their personal machines, like smart phones), is it honest to suggest that the District is really unaware of our ideas, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent? Should Tryon have had to excuse himself from work to deliver ideas the District was privy to already? Alternatively, what if Tryon got a hall pass from work, and said that the plan to bury the Campfire building was a bad call? Would his ideas have magically had more merit had he physically attended the meeting?

Such is the pathology of some of our readers.

And Clark is amazingly among the more sensible adherents to this tenet.

In truly unhinged fashion, local attorney Robert Kamper suggested that if Tryon didn’t make a good faith effort to buy the Campfire building, then he should have had no voice:

Perhaps Kampfer, after downshifting to a more sensible position, has a sense of humor….. but his initial instinct was absurd on its face. It does dovetail, though, with the default settings of Angry Readers Dennis Granlie and Patrick Caniporilielie [sic], who question ad nauseam — despite their absence — whether or not I or anyone with the temerity to question the School District has attended the most recent School Board meeting. (Apparently, you can support a decision in absentia, but you can’t oppose one.)

It is rhetorical maneuvering masquerading as a legitimate argument, and it is cheap. It’s a copout from facing or discussing any real ideas. If you or I, or anyone else, happened to attend the last Board meeting that the Trustees were indisputably prepared to ignore, does that make our ideas — whether we agree or not — any more or less legitimate?

I have asked it, sincerely so, and I have still yet to see any real response…..

What about the zoning?

Forget who went to the meeting….. and honestly answer the question: what about the zoning?

Precisely no one has answered this question yet.

Here’s a guess: If the School District’s “plan”, such that it is, were advanced by Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Rick Tryon, Cyndi Baker, or any other known conservative, outrage from the same District defenders, over a plan predicated on spending millions of our tax dollars in the hopes that the City will break its own rules, would be through the roof — no matter who attended any meetings — and that tells you all you need to know.

Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

10 Replies to “Didn’t Speak Out At The Meeting? Then Shut Up!”

  1. I agree. For a lot of folks, it’s much easier to write a well-reasoned argument when you’re not the center of attention in a meeting. And I hate to read from a prepared statement, but sometimes you have to in order to get all your points across. The last meeting I attended was the county commissioners meeting to appoint new members to the ZBOA. I had never been to one of their meetings before, so I was unfamiliar with the protocol. When time for comments came, I started asking the board questions that I thought were relevant regarding their bizarre requirements for whom they were going to appoint. I felt the requirements needed a little further clarification, and I was dead serious. I was NOT in any way trying to be contentious. In my naïveté, I didn’t realize that it was inappropriate to ask the board questions. I did anyway and was duly chastised by their lawyer. I briefly informed her that it was called free speech and then I sat down. When I did, a guy in plain clothes who said he was from the sheriff’s office leaned over and told me that if I tried that again I would be arrested. I replied try what? And he said argue with their attorney. I was dumbfounded. So now, you can’t even speak freely at these public meetings without fear of arrest. I really don’t like that. I’ve been attending public meetings for probably fifty years, and some were very contentious, but we were never threatened with arrest. So things have really changed, and not for the better. I believe that our public officials must engage with us and hear us out regardless of whether they like it or not. It’s what they’re paid to do. I don’t like it that they use law enforcement to silence their critics. That ain’t America!


  2. THIS: “A lot of folks are understandably not in love with the notion of going “on the record” and taking a position where they, their business(es), and/or their children could be met with reprisals.”

    Yes, yes and yes! I am victim of this town’s discriminatory retribution because of my opinions and beliefs. How do I know this? I came from a place that was more supportive of civilized and intelligent discourse from all sides. Then I moved to Great Falls and could sense a difference. I remained cautious in my new hometown. I wasn’t outspoken then. Nobody knew my political ideology. So I was able to get a lot more work.

    Over the past few years, I got tired of being cautious and felt the increasing need to express my views. Perhaps others saw it as me becoming a curmudgeon. I saw it as speaking the truth and demanding the same from others. I find it sad that Great Falls, in general, awards work based on such relatively unimportant factors such as relationships and political ties, instead of rewarding the best and most talented. Heck, I can often prove my services are best for a particular business, but that still doesn’t matter. The excuse given to me–we need to give others a chance. Really? That doesn’t seem to apply when one of their cronies gets all the work and they won’t give someone outside of their clique a chance. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one who has experienced this in Great Falls.

    Larry Kralj, I hear you about meetings. I haven’t been threatened as you have–yet. It’s so wrong to use the powers of government to squelch free speech. We all need to be vigilant of that and call it out as unacceptable.

    In the recent past, I’ve attended city commission meetings where they’ve voted to appoint various advisory board members. I dared to question the qualifications of a few of those appointees after looking at their applications found in the meeting packet. The applications I questioned had little to no information on the applicants’ qualifications; one that I remember had little more than a name and I signature. So I questioned the commission–how can you say you’re for transparency when you don’t even demand that advisory board applicants submit complete applications? The response–our staff vets the applicants. Well, as a member of the public, not a city staff member, I’m not privy to that process. So how is that transparency when the public can’t see these applicants’ qualifications (or lack thereof) because there’s little information on the public documents???


  3. Jeni, welcome to Great Falls! Unlike any city in Montana that I’ve ever lived in. The corruption here is palpable. But from what I gather that’s just business as usual. I suggest just keep fighting, for I think we are making headway. Many folks like yourself are now willing to take on the system for the good of the community. And I applaud your efforts, for this is our home!


  4. Thanks Larry! There are some really amazing folks here and that does give me hope.


    1. Jeni, it looks like there might be a guy running against Weber in the county commission race. If he jumps in, could you please interview him? I don’t trust the Spitoon. It would b appreciated. Thanks.


  5. Larry, I’d love to interview that person…do you know who he is?


  6. Lots of folks have been complaining about the county commission district maps on the Cascade County website. So I took the initiative to contact Rina Moore, Cascade County Clerk and Recorder to request better maps.

    Those maps have now been posted and are found here:

    Cascade County Commission Districts GF City Map:

    Cascade County Commission Districts County-Wide Map:

    Those maps can be downloaded as PDF, making it easy to zoom in and out.


    1. Yes. His name is Dominick Snell. I will try to get you some contact info. Thank you.


  7. Dominick Snell March 2, 2018 at 6:58 PM

    Hello Jeni, this is Dominick Snell, I am the one that is running for the County Commission seat that is being held by Jane Weber and I would be more than happy to do an interview. Email me at dsnell1012@gmail.com for information on when you would like to set this up.


  8. Thanks Dominick, I emailed you.


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