Ellen Smith for Oak Ridge Rotating Header Image

How not to communicate your views to a public official

Although I didn’t vote for the city’s Redflex contract that led to the installation of traffic cameras, one of these days the nastiness contained in the letters that City Council members receive regarding the cameras might just inspire me to head out on the streets carrying a sign in support of those cameras.  Insulting remarks may win fans for certain stand-up comedians, but my experience tells me that insults do not win the hearts of city council members.

This rant is inspired by today’s entry in the “how not to communicate to a public official” category. The sender of today’s e-mail message used his name (it’s a common name — I guesstimate that hundreds of  Tennesseans share his name) but gave no address (few of the ultra-nasty correspondents do — presumably because they don’t live in Oak Ridge). He did use a valid e-mail address, from which I found out where he lives (about 2 hours from Oak Ridge), where he works (he has a professional job — in a local governmental agency, even), and that he has a good-looking family.

He might be a nice guy, but his message is anything but nice:

Taking down camera signs: Despicable

I hope one day you all go to jail. The cameras infringe on my constitutional rights and now you are infringing on our right of free speech. Have you ever even read the constitution? How you can take an oath and then violate it, is beyond the pale. SAY IT LOUD AND SAY IT PROUD OAK RIDGE SUCKS! You are nothing more than a money grubbing assholes. Your time is almost up, good luck finding another job.

I don’t have any idea what he’s talking about regarding “taking down signs,” but his message doesn’t inspire me to want to find out — and it sure wouldn’t inspire me to change a vote!

There’s much discussion these days about the need for civility in public discourse. Civility is a good thing — not only because it may help “keep the peace”, but because uncivil communication is ineffective communication.

Followup: Aha! Here’s the story behind the message, from the Knoxville News Sentinel website:
Anti-traffic camera activists wage sign wars with Oak Ridge officials



  1. Angi Agle says:

    Agreed, wholeheartedly!

  2. Don Miller says:

    Honorable Councilwoman:

    Thank you for posting this “note” from an admiring public who apparently lives in another community. Well you could say he can write sort of and he certainly wants someone to listen to him. As a three year crossing guard and resident of Oak Ridge I feel I can speak with some authority on the speed cameras. I am certain that the number of vehicles I see driving erratically and over the speed limit near Illinois and the Turnpike is reduced compared to two years ago. Yes it is human nature to automatically push the posted limit a bit, yes we all want our relatives to arrive home safely after driving, yes it is annoying to pay the fine for getting caught, however I “can” learn to have different habits in my home town and I really don’t have to shave off 30 seconds between the Soup Kitchen and my home!

  3. Nancy England says:

    I’d like to reinforce what Don Miller has said. I’ve observed that the flow of traffic in the Illinois/Robertsville intersection invariably goes 35 mph even though the speed limit is 40. Of course, occasionally there’s someone breaking rank, eager to give the city $50. Nonetheless, the traffic cameras have noticeably improved things.

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    It’s good to hear people’s impressions of how the cameras have improved driving behavior. Don Miller’s observations are particularly valuable, given his experience in Oak Ridge’s busiest intersection.

    To clarify my vote on the cameras, I am not opposed to use of this technology. My quarrel with its implementation in Oak Ridge has to do with my view that “enforcement by camera” should not be implemented until after other traffic-safety measures have been tried, but failed to address an identified problem. I was not (and still am not) convinced that the City had demonstrated the need for the cameras that were installed. I would prefer to use technology to encourage drivers to observe traffic laws than to use technology to punish them for violating the law, particularly when the enforcement technology is as upsetting to people as the cameras are.

    I hope that the camera revenue will now be used for other safety measures that can lead to some of the cameras — and maybe also some crossing guards — being retired because they are no longer needed.

  5. […] Oak Ridger supporting this back in January — and I recently made a comment to the same effect here on this blog as well as on Facebook. My position has been that the camera revenue should be used for one-time […]

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