Tom Partridge describes himself as “a disabled senior citizen.” He’s also a self-appointed community conscience who often scolds public officials for not doing enough to support progressive causes. “Tom has made personal comments about Republicans in general and about me in particular,” says exasperated county commissioner Mark Ouimet. “Every single meeting, he makes personal attacks to Mark and myself,” agrees Lodi Republican Jessica Ping. “He even said I don’t pay attention to transportation issues—and I personally gave him a ride home!”
But it wasn’t the Republican commissioners who decided to do something about Partridge. At the first board meeting of the year, Ann Arbor Democrat Conan Smith introduced an amendment cutting individual comments at meetings of the board’s ways and means committee from five minutes to three minutes, and restricting them to topics already on the agenda. It passed with only two dissenting votes. “People who presume that public comment is the way to change things, they’re deluding themselves,” Smith argues. “My goal is to restructure public engagement so citizens are in the process from beginning through the media, public forums, and small-group meetings.” But in the meantime, Smith chairs the ways and means committee—and if Tom Partridge again tries to use public comment time to denounce the commissioners, says Smith, “I’m going to gavel him down.”
“This move is anticitizen, antivoter, and antidemocratic,” protests former board chair Jeff Irwin. “Tom Partridge has just as much right as anybody to tell us we’re doing a lousy job, and he has the right to do it any way he wants.” Partridge himself says he plans to “call on the public to oppose this illegal restriction on free speech and to call on the county commission to rescind the policy.” He intends to bring it up—where else?—during public comment.