A Michigan city council gave a 9-year-old a poor lesson in civics and may have even broken the law.
The Lansing City Council effectively censored the fourth grade girl during a meeting to protest the changes at a local park, the Lansing State Journal reported.
Charli Collison attended the council meeting earlier this week along with her mother, Kelly Collison, in order to weigh in on the debate over the construction of a new golf course entrance through Ormond Park, where the young girl frequently played.
Council President Patricia Spitzley allowed everyone who wanted to speak at the end of the public comments portion of the meeting – except Charli Collison. While four adults were able to address the council members and attendees, the 9 year-old was not.
In fact, when the first adult to address the council advocates for the “youth members” to be allowed to speak, Spitzley rudely cut her off.
“I have strong feelings about the role of children and what their role should be. I don’t believe that 9-year-old children should be giving public comment. I just don’t,” Spitzley told the Journal in a phone interview Wednesday.
Spitzley’s decision upset Charli who told the Journal it made her cry.“I cried because I was sad I couldn’t talk about the reasons I had for Ormond Park to be saved,” she said. “I wanted to tell them that kids should have a chance to come to Ormond Park and climb on the rock wall and play on the structures.”
The girl’s mother said it was her daughter’s idea to address the council and she was upset when the 9 year-old was not even given the chance.
“Since apparently 9-year-olds are not allowed to fight for parks, I’ll read what my daughter had to say,” Collison said as she stepped up to the microphone with Charli at her side.
“I thought that it sent a message to young people that their voice doesn’t matter,” Collison later told the Journal.
She decided to read the hand-written note during her own time at the microphone, but Spitzley complained that Charli referred to Mayor Virg Bernero as a “park killer” in the note and criticized it as not “meaningful.”
“The child’s comment referred to the mayor as a park killer. That just validated it wasn’t a meaningful, thoughtful comment. It was more done for effect,” she said, though Collison said the note actually read, “Stop the park killers.”
After backlash about the incident, Spitzley asked the City Attorney to check the state Open Meetings Act, which she was told was silent about children being covered by the law.
Lansing State Journal attorney, Herschel Fink, disputed the finding noting that the law was actually quite clear.
“Being silent on age means there is no requirement of age. That’s a totally preposterous claim,” he said, noting that the law states a person can address the council in public and a 9-year-old counts as a person.
“The simple answer is ‘Yeah, it’s a violation of the Open Meetings Act, plain and simple,’” Fink said.
Third Ward Council member Adam Hussain believes Spitzley needs to rethink the decision to muzzle Charli.
“We need to be careful when we are encouraging our young people, more now than probably ever, to get people civically engaged,” the eighth-grade social studies teacher said. “We have to be careful with the message that we’re sending.”