By Mary Geddry of Coquille, Oregon. Mary describes herself as "a freelance science writer and peace activist." She blogs at MGx.com. [Editor's note: Many of the articles discussed below are not online, except at Concerned Citizens of Coquille.]
Nestled along a scenic and gentle curve of the Coquille River, amidst organic dairies and verdant hay fields a battle looms large over local civil liberties. Even in Coquille, pop. 4,300 and the county seat of Coos County Oregon, threats to the Bill of Rights have set off a firestorm of action leading to one despotic city councilmember berating the local paper at a recent city council meeting for printing the opinions of 'malcontents'. Councilman Bruce Parker - offended that views not his own have been published - even canceled his subscription to the Coquille Valley Sentinel, est. 1882, and announced that he would no longer advertise his real estate brokerage business in the paper.
The cause of all this brouhaha is a group calling themselves 'Concerned Citizens of Coquille' (CCofC), of which this author is an active participant. The group formed after what was perceived by many citizens as unfair law enforcement by the local police department. At issue are many of the same complaints found anywhere; selective enforcement, malfeasance, nonfeasance and misfeasance and denial of equal protection. After numerous complaints went ignored by city management more than fifty local citizens met on the lawn of the community center one Sunday afternoon and CCofC was born.
Since its inception in June, CCofC has held a civil rights symposium to educate the public, in particular the youth about their 4th and 5th Amendment rights. Next is a push to establish a citizen review board to act as an impartial arbiter of legitimate complaints between citizens and city management.
Since Councilman Parker's outburst at the August 6 city council meeting challenging our 1st Amendment right to free speech many other citizens have come forward voicing concerns over city management practices that extend beyond the police department. A recall petition is reportedly being circulated because of a recently enacted 'gas tax' labeled as a business fee and passed unanimously by the city council. CCofC's ranks have risen owing to this little controversy alone.
Meanwhile, the Coquille Valley Sentinel has published a front page article in answer to Parker's 'vented spleen', defending their right to publish and offer a forum for all citizens equally. Nevertheless, they are reworking their editorial policy and we can all hope the only restrictions regard civility and polite discourse and not content or substance.