So let it be written…
So, is Surrey city council putting an egg timer on democracy?
Time is precious, as they say. But so is the latter.
Earlier this week, the council voted to put a five-minute limit on concerned folk wishing to have their say at public hearings. Some argue this is an affront to everything dear and democratic. Others are no doubt happy for the relief it represents.
Many light years ago I used to cover Surrey council meetings, some deep into the night, ending with purple skies, chirping robins and lonely parking lots. Well, maybe I’m exagerating a bit. Still, the bags under my eyes would dangle down into my coffee mug, and I’d wobble in my seat, earnestly searching for notebook with pen, as council watchers and politicians alike would blather on, endlessly. I daresay one particularly loquacious former alderman owes me at least two weeks of my life. Now, that’s a captive audience.
Let’s face it, folks, a lot can be said in five minutes or less.
Consider the case of Edward Everett. I’ll bet few of you, if any, have heard of this fellow. He was the featured speaker at the 1863 dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg. Everett spoke for well over two hours, uttering 13,607 words. What did he say? I don’t know. Do you?
Everett was, however, followed onto the platform by another fellow who spoke for just over two minutes. “Four score and seven years ago,” Abraham Lincoln began, launching into a 272-word address destined for the history books, not to mention glory.
Lincoln proved that if you’re well-organized, and forthright, you can get your point across with authority, punch and thrift.
Today, when the attention span of an average human being is said to be eight seconds, and Twitter is the leader of the free world’s chosen medium of communication, really, five minutes is practically an eternity.
So the crux of the matter, then, concerns not so much the duration alloted, but rather that one and all are held to the same standard. Five minutes. No special considerations. Democracy for one and all.
That applies to activists, lobbyists, girl guides and land developers, council watchers, angry residents, not-so-angry residents, and even the King of Spain, should he show up.
Let’s, of course, not forget the council members themselves. The city’s bylaw limits them to speak no more than twice on a given motion, not over four minutes.
This is especially important that the policitians be strictly held to this standard, seeing as we are in an election year, lest they be tempted to get on the stump.
Get out your stop watches, voters!
So let it be done.