Keep the focus where it belongs

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Public officials should not overreact, even if provoked.

SOME FIGHTS JUST aren't worth fighting. The Beloit school board's flirtation with restricting citizen comments at regular board meetings falls into that category.

We don't buy into the conspiracy theory that it's all some sinister plot by the board and administration to choke off the people's right to be heard. Until proven otherwise, we continue to believe the folks who sacrifice their time and energy to serve on community government bodies do so with good intentions. Just because disagreements arise does not mean anybody associated is evil and bent on subjugating citizens.

We can see why some suspect the worst, though, because we're all living in an era of mean-spirited polarization. Beloiters can't fix what ails the country, but they don't have to adopt the worst character traits of the partisan political warriors currently debasing our country.

HERE'S HOW WE see it. There's a consensus in the community that poor academic performance and disorder in the schools no longer can be tolerated. If we had our way there would be two buckets on the board table, one labeled "academics" and the other labeled "order and discipline." If a dispute meanders off into the weeds, bang the gavel and say, "That doesn't fit in either bucket. Let's move on."

The public comment issue doesn't fit. Move on.

Yes, there have been times when one citizen or another may have become unruly or obnoxious, even untruthful. Democracy is messy. Still, don't overreact. Don't be provoked into appearing less open over annoyance with what somebody said or how they said it.

Instead, do what the Beloit City Council does. The council allows open comment but requires it to be civil - and short.

That works, a lot better than reacting in ways liable to be perceived as limiting citizens' rights.

A FINAL WORD: While we believe government bodies have an obligation to give citizens the widest possible access, we also believe those citizens have responsibilities, too. The process can be broken down by either party. If a board or council appears barely willing to tolerate citizen comments and criticisms, that's out of line. Likewise, if a citizen shows up with angry words and accusations, that's out of line. Civility is becoming a lost communication art in this divided, confrontational country. Remember, on boards and with citizens, they're neighbors and fellow residents, all of whom hope for a better community. Act like it.

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