A New Metric For Making Public Comments?

by Travis Mateer

At the virtual City Council meeting on December 13th, Missoula citizen Matt Larson had his Zoom audio cut in mid-sentence. Why? According to another attendee of the meeting, it was because he made historically inaccurate comments about city policy.

Is this a valid justification for shutting down a citizen’s ability to provide commentary? The citizen who is bringing attention to this anti-democratic development from our forever Mayor described the situation like this in an email sent to council members and Mayor Engen:

At the December 13, 2021 City Council meeting, Zoom attendee Matt Larson (with whom I have neither a personal acquaintance nor any shared political/ideological organizational affiliation of which I’m aware), had his microphone cut off by the Mayor a few seconds into Mr. Larson’s Citizen Comment (the first of three comments by Mr. Larson at this meeting).  Mr. Larson was respectful and was not using profanity. Nor was he yelling. Nor was he making offensive personal comments about the Mayor or any member of the Council (although doing so would be fully protected speech and expression under both the Montana and United States Constitutions). Nor was he disruptive. Nor did he expressly or impliedly threaten violence of violation of any law. Nor did he engage in any conduct constituting breach of the peace. Nor did he utter anything akin to “shouting ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater”or otherwise posing a clear and present danger to anyone. 

The reason given by the Mayor for abruptly censoring Mr. Larson in mid-sentence was that Mr. Larson had said two things about city policy that were historically inaccurate. This authoritarian action by the Mayor, which evoked no objection, opposition or disapproving remark from any member of the Council, violated the following provisions of the Declaration of Rights proclaimed in Article II of the Montana Constitution:

The author of the email goes on to provide his educated perspective on the articles being violated by our Mayor, who won his FIFTH term last month.

Having been cancelled and censored myself, I am sensitive to these examples of a wannabe dictator shutting down a lowly citizen’s ability to provide public comment. Is Mayor Engen now the arbiter of what constitutes historically ACCURATE commentary?

Speaking of censorship, a new effort to limit who views this blog seemed to arise over the weekend after I posted this update on the Larchmont development. Here is the screen some viewers got when they clicked on the link:

I spent some time yesterday trying to figure out what this means. My WordPress support said they couldn’t help me with this, because it’s a Microsoft Defender SmartScreen thing. They gave me a link to try and address this, but after an hour of trying, I gave up.

Despite this attempt at censorship, I had a BIG day of views yesterday as people realize they aren’t getting important context from news outlets, like the Missoulian, especially on subjects like affordable housing.

Is Zoom Chron unsafe? If you derive safety from controlling the narrative, then yes, my blog is not a safe space for you.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more to come!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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6 Responses to A New Metric For Making Public Comments?

  1. TC says:

    Through the past two+ years of CoVid/Zoom, Government at all levels has learned to control narrative and manipulate discussion. Giving this power to a narcissist like Engen is like giving Otis an open bar tab (too close to home?)
    There is no real reason that we cannot have open meetings at the City/County level due to the deadly ‘demic”. My kid has been going to school for over a year armed only with clean hands and a mask. The only reason the local Gov’t doesnt emulate the bravery of children is because they are cowards with guilty consciences. (Looking at you Gwen Jones!!!).
    Also – on a tangent: this weekend a 16 yo from Hellgate High pulled a man from a burning car and saved his life! All of the office sitting, latte sipping, soft handed types will never understand the amount of bravery this took – let alone by a school aged boy. This was truly an example of Godly service above and beyond ones’ self. This young man is a true hero and a hero of mine!
    Seems like it would have been the Perfect moment for our Mayor/Council to recognize/celebrate this young man and use his example to bring us all together (if only for a moment). But alas, it happened on a weekend and someone else would have got credit. Rest easy SJW, Im sure you save lives too with your BLM/Rainbow stickered Subarus (thats the same as actually putting your literal ass on the line right Mayor Engen?)

    • I am down with all you’ve said here, TC. I wish the Hellgate High youth would be identified, and I wish the FD would give him a citation. I’ve written the Fire Dept. requesting that, and I urge you to do so, as well.

      Schoolchildren are being sent home for ten days if they or their parents test positive on a PCR SARS-CoV-2 test even if it only picked up a trace of RNA after 35+ cycles. College students are being sent home for the same reason as campuses close on the basis of such insignificance. When I was defending criminal cases, that kind of application of the technology by the state was easy to shoot down. Urine tests for drugs have a cut-off and one is needed for these PCR SARS-Cov-2 tests. I don’t oppose mask requirements, or vaccination mandates for certain occupations — provided they are REASONABLE, meaning evidence-based.

      YOU’RE RIGHT, there is NO reason that in-public City Council meetings cannot resume, with appropriate precautions (masks, social distancing). Having at least a few citizens in actual attendance would be a check on authoritarianism. I don’t care if a person is “left” or “right,” we cannot tolerate what reared its head at the last Council meeting. What is “historically accurate” will often be a matter of opinion, and regardless of the purported accuracy or inaccuracy of a statement, if the Mayor takes issue with a statement’s accuracy, he can say so when it’s time for Comments by Mayor on the agenda, or he can say so when the citizen concludes. Councilpersons can do so during their Comment slot on the agenda. I felt it important to immediately respond to what happened, lest it serve as a “trial balloon” for the Mayor.

      The instructions and machinations for virtually attending a City Council meeting are not prominently highlighted on the city web page, are internally inconsistent and confusing, and not infrequently what the instructions promise is not delivered. For example, frequently the ever-important attachments to the agenda cannot be accessed because the city clerk did not provide a working link on the agenda which has its own instructions for viewing. I had to write a guide for one group in order to facilitate participation, but much of the time it doesn’t lead to success. Public “attendance” at the meetings often consists of three or fewer members of the public.

  2. Thanks for sharing parts of the email I sent to the Mayor and Council. If Mayor Engen does not apologize to Mr. Larson and the public at the next Council meeting, I will be demanding that he do so. And I know of at least one newly elected City Councilperson who will support that.

    Engen was elected for another four year term as Mayor, not as King.

  3. Travis, that effing “warning” message greeting some navigators to this site, is outrageous! You’re definitely making someone nervous.

    I’ve never been censored here even when in adamantly disagreement with something you’ve written. The Internet isn’t deemed a public resource in this country and as a result, free expression is at the whim of unaccountable individuals.

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