- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Hattiesburg City Council meetings will again include a period for public comment.

The issue was settled Monday at the urging of Forrest County Chancery Judge Dawn.

What was called the “Citizens Forum” was suspended Oct. 2, 2013, for at least 90 days by a 4-1 vote of the council when conduct and speech during the forum often had turned personal, bitter and heated.

Forrest County Supervisor Roderick Woullard, NAACP Forrest County President Clarence Magee and the Rev. Kenneth Fairley filed a lawsuit last week in chancery court. The lawsuit argued the city council is violating local citizens’ freedom of speech rights.

At Beam’s request, the two sides met and reached an agreement after about 40 minutes.

The agreement provides that Council member Henry Naylor will be moderator for the public comment period.

Mayor Johnny DuPree said Beam’s nudge toward negotiation helped overcome the impasse.

“When you have an issue, sometimes personalities just get in the way,” DuPree said. “Sometimes, even though we all want the same things, we don’t know how to get there. Sometimes, an impartial party has to step in. Sometimes, you need that encouragement from that impartial party.”

DuPree also agreed to provide bailiffs at the meetings to help preserve decorum.

The forum will return on March 16.

“To silence a community because people appear in emotion and angst and cannot express themselves should not interfere with those who speak with reason,” said Magee.

“We understand that we are dealing with imperfect human beings and sometimes we are too sensitive to what we hear in our ears. But we all are going to have to listen to each other,” he said.


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