Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Chattanooga City Council Chairman Erskine Oglesby speaks during a Chattanooga City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Chattanooga.

What do you think when you hear the word "luxury" tossed around?

Luxury car? Sure, I can see that. A Lexus. A convertible as a ride-around option. Maybe a pickup truck as a third ride.

Luxury jewelry? You bet. Tennis bracelets, necklaces, everything the Mrs. wants but doesn't need. Hey, we're talking luxury here, people.

Luxury trips? Absolutely. Who wouldn't want to be the folks on those awesome commercials kicking back with their feet up as they sail to see those turtles your wife wants to see in those islands we can never pronounce?

Well, what about your ability to ask a question of your elected official?

Or maybe having your say at a municipal meeting of said elected officials?

That seems way more basic than luxury, right? I mean, sure, the Kardashians have a skewed view of luxury items, but apparently so does the Chattanooga City Council.

After a disruptive outburst from activist and 2021 council candidate Marie Mott earlier this month — mind you, she was calling for action to stop the shootings of young blacks in our community, so her passion is clearly understandable — a council member described public comment at council meetings as a "luxury."

Here's what Council Chairman Erskine Oglesby told this paper's Sarah Grace Taylor: "What we do by allowing people the opportunity to speak is like a luxury. I believe in freedom of speech and I believe we should still allow people to speak, but you know, it's one of those things that is just value added to our meetings."

Easy big fella and Grand Poobah of the city.

"Allowing people to speak is like a luxury." You realize the "people" pay your salary, right, Erskine?

So technically, allowing your boss the chance to speak is a luxury for your boss? Yeah, good luck with that in the workplaces in which the rest of us operate.

Certainly citizens at the council meetings should be polite and courteous. We all should aim for civility and respect, although perhaps that's a fool's errand in today's times.

More from Ol' Erskine to our paper's Taylor: "I'm not against public comment or even lifting the two-comments-in-a-month thing, but we have to do what's best for this council and the public during meetings. Our clerk sits with her back to this crowd, and I know I wouldn't want to have an unruly crowd behind me when I couldn't see them. I just think we have to consider not just getting our work done and allowing people to speak, but also what's the safest way to do all that."

OK, well, how about having the clerk move her work station a bit?

Now we have new guidelines for public comment. We get that.

Speakers must be recognized. A three-minute limit. No cursing or vulgar language.

But limiting the number of times, the scope of topics and the frequency for concerned citizens to voice their concerns is more anti-American than tea taxes and communism.

Friends, partially silencing freedom of speech is the first step to completely silencing freedom of speech.

And you can't say you support free speech while calling it a luxury, Erskine.

A right is never a luxury, my man.

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Jay Greeson

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