As this week’s letters suggest, many Little Falls residents are upset by the actions of Robin Hensel. We offer suggestions about, first, what not to do, and then, what to do.
The most important thing for every citizen to understand is the only way that Hensel will hurt you is if you do something that gives merit to her suit against the city that alleges that it violated her constitutional rights. Such actions could cost the city big time.
Whether you agree with her or not, she has a right to speak on the issues of the day. As with every constitutional right, however, there are limits. We believe the Little Falls City Council is now getting good legal advice on what those limits are, even as Hensel continues to push the boundaries.
Thus, our first piece of advice is to ignore her as much as possible.Every acknowledgement plays into her hands.
We realize that suggestion puts the Record in a paradoxical spot. Because we cover City Council meetings, if she causes the Council to adjourn as soon as it starts or gets arrested for refusing to move, we will report it. We also treat her the same as anyone else who wants to write a letter to the editor.
The press also has constitutional rights. We try to make the Viewpoint section accessible to everyone within limits. However, under the Constitution, the decision remains ours as to what appears. While these pages remain open to all, that doesn’t mean it gives anyone the right to say everything they want to say here. Occasionally we are criticized for the decisions we make. That comes with the territory. We can’t allow ourselves to be intimidated, and the First Amendment makes it possible not to be.
That said, the City Council also cannot allow itself to be intimidated by her. Knowledge is power, and members need to learn what it can and cannot do under the law. They also need to remember that they represent the collective will of this city as decided through the ballot box. Hensel does not.
The Council does not have to act on any of her petitions; it does not have to let her speak at every meeting. It has the right to tell her to remove photos and signs from the Council chambers. In short the Council is running the meeting. All the Council has to do is treat her the same as it would any other citizen acting the same way.
If she presents a petition on drone use, the Council doesn’t have to hear that presentation or act on it. If it prefers, for example, to review city bills, the Council has that right.
If the Council wants to set aside a portion of its meetings for public input, that’s fine. If Hensel wants to speak there, we have no problem with that either. But the Council has important city business to address, so it can set limits on how often and how long any citizen can speak. Apply the same or similar rules to any city board or commission. Then apply the rules uniformly.
Finally, remember this situation is not unique to Little Falls. American society is more diverse than it once was, which means community norms and accepted behavior are more likely to be challenged. We don’t have to surrender to those challenges, we just need to have processes in place, so, without infringing on anyone’s limited constitutional rights, the government can do the work the public elected it to do.