- Associated Press - Friday, July 14, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A central Michigan city leader has been criticized for silencing a 9-year-old girl who wanted to tell a city council meeting about her opposition to construction at a popular park for children.

Charli Collison went with her mother to a Lansing City Council meeting Monday to object to the construction of a new golf course entrance through Ormond Park, a popular spot for children to play, the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/2uZnYA9 ) reported.

When Council President Patricia Spitzley asked if the public wanted to comment, she allowed four adults to speak but said no to Charli.

“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 said Wednesday.

Charli’s mother, Kelly Collison, said it was her daughter’s decision to come before the council. She said the president’s decision sends a message to youth that their voice is unimportant.

“I cried because I was sad I couldn’t talk about the reasons I had for Ormond Park to be saved,” Charli 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.”

Kelly Collison used her own public comment time to read Charli’s remarks, which included calling Mayor Virg Bernero a “park killer.”

“That just validated it wasn’t a meaningful, thoughtful comment. It was more done for effect,” Spitzley said.

Collison said councilmembers Kathie Dunbar and Carol Wood have since apologized to Charli.

Attorney Herschel Fink said the decision violates the Open Meetings Act because a person, including a child, is allowed to address a public body. The law is silent on whether it covers children.

“Being silent on age means there’s no requirement of age,” Fink said.

Third Ward Councilman Adam Hussain said Spitzley may have to rethink her decision about Charli’s right to speak.

“We need to be careful when we are encouraging our young people, more now than probably ever, to get people civically engaged,” he said. “We have to be careful with the message that we’re sending.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com


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