Protestors at Upshur commissioners meeting

By Bob Hallmark - bio | email

LONGVIEW,TX (KLTV)- A controversial ruling banning public speaking at the meetings, is at the root of an unusual form of protest in Upshur county commissioners court. In the front row of commissioners court, several people made it clear what they thought of the court's ban on public speaking, all wearing duct tape over their mouths.

"They got their point across and I respect them for that, I'm disappointed that its been carried to this extreme," says precinct 1 commissioner James Crittendon.

Citing political posturing and personal attacks, the court voted in October to discontinue the public comments portion, to the anger of citizens.

"This is their country they pay their taxes and they should have a voice, and to question authority and seek accountability," says protestor Jim Grey.

Jimmy Coughran just wanted his roads paved, but when public comment was silenced he began wearing tape across his mouth, in protest.

"It made me mad, the last meeting was when I got kicked out," says Coughran.

And the court wanted no more of it.

"The next time around a sheriffs deputy said he was going to arrest me, and said I will put you in jail you'll be charged with criminal trespass," Coughran says.

But support for Coughran is growing.

"And how else would a citizen express and redress their grievances if they're not able to speak," Grey says.

"The sooner this court learns who we work for, the sooner this county's going to be in a lot better shape than what its in, for us to violate that the way its been violated recently is totally unnecessary," says Crittedton.

"To see that the constitution and the oath that these gentleman took is followed and that the first amendment will prevail and people will have free speech," Grey says.

In the end, there were no fireworks and both sides parted peacefully.

"I will continue my silent protest until possibly it is put back on the agenda," Coughran says.

Coughran has started a petition drive to get public comment put back on the commissioners court agenda.

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