The meaning of public

Jessica Lewis

Some words and phrases can be misleading. The English language is full of them. For instance, if someone snaps at you, you might say they’re biting off your head, or if someone is telling a story, you say they’re pulling your leg.

Phrases like those could be easily misinterpreted, but to the best of my knowledge, public meeting is not one of these slang terms that sounds like one thing and means another. Everyone should be able to tell from the term “public meeting,” especially the “public” part, that the public has a right to know what occurs at the meeting.

It seems obvious, yet, I still talk to people who don’t seem to understand. Last night, a gentleman got up at a meeting of the Common Council and spoke during the open forum. (Yes, it was public and open.) He spoke his mind and the council responded. Yet after the meeting, he informed me that everything he said was off the record. He even went one step further and said anytime he ever speaks at a meeting, it is off the record.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what to say, so I simply said my good-byes and left for the night, but after some consideration, I only find myself more and more confused. I did not quote the gentleman in today’s article, but if he had said something worth noting, I would have been obligated to do so. Speaking at a public meeting and declaring it off the record is a lot like screaming a secret from a rooftop. Just because you call it a secret, doesn’t mean everyone isn’t going to know about it anyway. Public meetings are just that, public. So if you don’t want to be on the record, don’t say it in a public forum.