Last year, as I wrote about, there was an incident at Central Library when a citizen named Jim Knapp attempted to ask Ocean View School District Trustee president Gina Clayton Tarvin (pictured above as a surrogate attempts to block a camera for her) a number of questions. He was quickly hustled out of the public event and police were called. Moments later, Knapp was informed that Tarvin was accusing him of trespassing, assault and even more incomprehensibly, forced imprisonment (a felony).
Evidently for asking questions she did not want to hear. Was he being direct and demanding answers? Yes. But had she been stonewalling him and were her supporters harassing him for daring to challenge her? Absolutely.
Knapp, along with many other citizens, has also had his Facebook account suspended for daring to criticize or question Tarvin. While it is not known exactly how the social media platform is being manipulated a Tarvin’s behalf, clearly there is an orchestrated process in place. To many people have been banned for it to be coincidental.
While these events have certainly sent a chill effect through the city, it’s probably a good idea to remember that there are protected systems in place for questioning and challenging any and all elected officials.
Number one, and probably most important, is the freedom to use your voice at public meetings, whether it be city council meetings or school board meetings. Now, naturally there are limits imposed within these forums and you certainly are not free to make direct threats against someone. The problem is, occasionally you will find an elected official who seem so scared of the public’s voice that they will begin reacting as if even a question constitutes a threat.
Don’t be thrown by this. If you have a concern about an elected official, you are free to express that concern. They cannot call the police to have you forcibly removed simply because they disagree with you. Similarly, they cannot file restraining orders simply because they fear you may be exposing them on some level that would be beneficial for voters to be aware of. More and more, we see politicians feigning fear to try and silence public voices. But you have every single right to attend meetings to voice your opinions.
Number two, you’re also able to request any and all communications between public officials, from emails to physical paperwork to texts. All you have to do is file a CPRA (public request act) with the scope of what you are looking for. Those are public records. Emails that officials receive at work do not belong to them. They belong to the public and you’re entitled to request them.
The bottom line is, in an age where there is less and less media to hold public officials accountable, it becomes even more important for the public to get involved and demand answers. Again, occasionally you will get an official who will act as if what you’re doing is not legal. But if you’re simply demanding answers about policy and their behavior, you’re well within your rights and should not be silenced.
So don’t be intimidated. You pay for these people and you have every right to ask questions and demand answers as it affects their responsibilities as elected officials.
Now more than ever.