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Foss: Public officials should expect to be criticized

Foss: Public officials should expect to be criticized

It's part of the deal: You get to make decisions that impact the community, and citizens can criticize those decisions
Foss: Public officials should expect to be criticized
Photographer: Gazette file photo

Do you like to be criticized? 

I don't. 

But I knew when I went into this line of work that people might criticize me, or the things I write. That's part of the trade-off when you become a columnist: You get to write your opinions, but people are free to critique them. It's not a one-way street.

Nothing is immune from criticism, but some jobs and activities might draw more criticism than others. 

If you're an ice cream salesman, criticism might be a rarity, because everyone likes ice cream. 

But if you're an elected official, criticism might be a common occurrence.

Indeed, if I ran for public office, I would expect to be criticized at every turn. I would expect people to write letters to the newspaper criticizing my positions, and to show up at public meetings to express this criticism in person. 

It's part of the deal: You get to make decisions that impact the community, and members of the community can criticize those decisions. 

That's what happened Monday, when a number of Schenectady residents turned out at the City Council meeting to criticize the Council's new public comment rules. 

I've been following this ongoing controversy with some interest, mainly because it seemed so unnecessary. 

Had City Council President Ed Kosiur simply let Schenectady resident Steve Ram speak his piece at the April meeting that kicked off this controversy, those angry Schenectady residents wouldn't have attended this week's council meeting to express their displeasure over the Council's new public comment rules

At issue: A provision that says "proper decorum must be observed" during the public comment period. 

In particular, "personal attacks on Council Members, the Administration, City Staff, other speakers, or members of the public, which are unrelated to City business, will not be tolerated.”

This might sound reasonable in theory, but it raises questions in practice. 

What might seem like an over-the-top personal attack to one person might strike another as perfectly reasonable criticism.

Determining which category a speaker's comments fall into is a matter of judgment, and it isn't clear where the lines are drawn.  

There are times when criticizing an elected official's character is appropriate and justified, even necessary. Personal conduct can rise to the level of city business, if it calls into question a politician's ability to serve the public.  

I've read Ram's comments, which were directed at City Council member John Mootooveren, and they're harsh, though not so harsh that they should have been deemed "out of order" by Kosiur. 

I might feel differently if Mootooveren weren't a public official -- if he were, say, an ice cream salesman. When you're a public official, criticism, even harsh criticism, goes with the territory. 

At this week's council meeting, Kosiur said that he'd spoken to some past council members who left the council because they didn't like being "belittled" by members of the public.

Frankly, I don't see this as a problem. 

If you don't like being "belittled," whatever that might mean, serving on a city council might not be the job for you. 

Being an ice cream salesman, on the other hand -- well, that might be a better fit. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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