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“Speak Up” –

Washoe County’s Newest Scam

Washoe County recently instituted the “Speak Up” option for submitting public comment at County Commission meetings. It enables the public to digitally submit comment, digitally sign up for in-person public comment, and provides multi-lingual options for the comments. Digital comments will appear on Commissioners’ iPads while seated on the dais and in the live agenda that accompanies the video feed during commission meetings.

Not brought to the commissioners before its launch, Speak Up’s launch took some commissioners by surprise. Commissioner Herman questioned why it wasn’t brought to the board before being launched. Commissioner Clark noted that hearing and seeing public commenters in person was important; he expressed concern that the digital option would “chip away at the people’s voice.” Commissioners Mariluz Garcia and Chair Alexis Hill both spoke in enthusiastic support of the digital option, apparently already aware of the program’s rollout.

DESTRUCTION OF TRANSPARENCY

Speak Up removes all transparency from the public comment process similar to how present digital election processes have removed all transparency in our elections through the use of the “convenient and accessible,” electronic/digital methods. In both cases, the public is given false assurances via disingenuous “checks and verifications” at every step as to the security and integrity of the process:

“Trust, but you can’t verify.”

For the public, there is:

  • No way to verify the true identity of commenter.
  • No way to verify that the commenter/person actually exists.
  • No way to confirm the actual number of comments being submitted by one individual. Multiple names or aliases could be used by one individual or group of individuals with nefarious goals.
  • No way to verify that the list is being compiled chronologically or fairly by county staff.
  • No way to verify when digital comments were submitted.
  • No way to verify when the list is compiled.
  • No way to verify the residence of the commenters. Are they even Nevada voters or residents, yet their comments would be given equal weight as Washoe residents?
  • No guarantee that in-person attendees will have the opportunity to speak at all since their turn could be delayed by hundreds of digital comments or digital registrants preceding them.

All “Speak Up” processes are completely hidden from the public. They are:

  • Hidden digitally since the public is unable to monitor or access the digital files and programs, and
  • Hidden behind county office walls because the public cannot monitor the actions of county staff inside their offices.

It’s almost as if the true objective of Speak Up is to:

  • Destroy the integrity and transparency of the entire public comment process.
  • Decrease in-person commenters’ opportunities to address the board.
  • Inject fraud opportunities into the public comment process.

Are these the true objectives of Speak Up? Why would Commissioners Hill, Garcia, and County Manager Eric Brown support a program so fraught with negatives?

HOW TO SILENCE IN-PERSON SPEAKERS

  1. Remove initial public comment from all commission meetings. Commissioner Hill and Manager Brown refuse to place the topic on an agenda even after receiving multiple requests from Commissioners Clark and Herman to do so. Done.
  2. Launch Speak Up to remove all transparency, confidence, fairness, security, and integrity in the public comment process. It has prioritized a digital process over in-person comments to the board. What attention will commissioners give to in-person speakers while simultaneously reading digital comments on their iPads? Done.
  3. Claim to be a victim of public commenters. Done.

Yes, expect to see an increased number of public comments, but no trust should be given to this new process, and zero credence should be given to the digital comments submitted since no identity verification is included in the process. Those wishing to communicate with the commissioners have always had the option of emailing, calling, or mailing them.

One can only conclude that Speak Up was instituted specifically and intentionally to squelch and overwhelm in-person attendees’ comments. Given Commissioner Hill’s treatment of public commenters at recent meetings, it comes as no surprise. And for those imagining how Speak Up could be used nefariously, imagine teams of activists working from homes or offices to submit comments, again without identity verification.

And last, the maximum number of words able to be spoken – intelligibly – in the 3-minute time limit given to public commenters is nowhere near the 2250 wpm mentioned in another news article discussing Speak Up. Accepting digital comments in excess of what speakers are able to say in 3 minutes gives unfair advantage to digital comments and commenters.

CALL TO ACTION

Contact the commissioners and county manager to let them know that Speak Up harms the integrity of public comment.

Attend the commission meetings to show them your disapproval. They need to see your face, something some of the commissioners try to avoid.

Demand that County Manager Brown be removed from his position for failure to meet his duties of placing agenda items on the agenda per requests by commissioners. Brown was not elected by the people to censor speech or hamper government process. How much incompetence will Washoe County residents take from their County Manager?

V. White

(The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Nevada Signal.)