After covering around 700 public hearings and school board and village board meetings over my career, I have learned a few things beyond the typical take-notes, write-stories approach.

One of those is that members of the public heed the rules set forth by the board president, chairman or whatever the case may be. If you don’t, your cause may be lost with that respective board.

Period.

This came to mind when I recently covered a hearing at Illinois State University on proposed legislation requiring labeling of certain genetically engineered foods.

State Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, who introduced the legislation, chaired the Food Labeling Subcommittee hearing that allowed for four representatives from each side of the issue to testify.

It was a fair format for both sides, with two hours allotted for the hearing. All of those who testified gave solid information as to why they were for or against the labeling.

However, in this mild-mannered reporter’s mind, the problem was the verbal reaction of a few supporters of the labeling plan when the anti-labeling folks testified. Koehler was very clear at the beginning of the hearing about members of the audience being respectful of those testifying.

There were a handful of times when the anti-labeling folks testified that a few members of the audience shouted out their own views on what was said or reacted with groans. It got to the point a couple of times where Koehler said that if this continued, he would clear the room of everyone but those testifying.

I’ve seen this before, and experience says it turns bad for those who opt to conduct themselves outside the lines that were clearly established. What I’ve seen happen is opinions can shift to the side opposite the rabble-rousers because they quickly lose credibility.

I must reiterate that it was only a few who were out of line among around 200 in attendance. Unfortunately, it reflects badly on the majority who were respectful of Koehler’s request.

I know that this can be an emotional issue, and it may be hard for some to hold their tongue, but if the pro-labeling folks want their voice heard, they need to follow the rules at hearings. If they don’t, they take two steps backwards for every step forward.