Thursday, October 15, 2015
"Slippery slope" disruption editorial
ODD TODD NEVILLE taking oath of office December 1, 2014 before repeatedly violating oath of office.
First Commissioner ODD TODD NEVILLE (R-PROCTORVILLE), demanded a libel lawsuit, at your expense, against Michael Gold and Historic City News, for expressing contrary opinions on DOW PUD (CORDOVA INN) and nondisclosure.
We stopped him.
Then Commissioner NANCY SIKES-KLINE (R-PROCTORVILLE) demanded a "decorum" resolution," responding to First Amendment protected activity directed against TODD NEVILLE's attempted First Amendment violation (for which City Manager JOHN REGAN's running dog never apologized). Now First Amendment protected activity is targeted by a misbegotten, superficial "debate," despite The Record columnist's logical argument against restricting First Amendment rights.
Editorial: How do we make good manners a law?
Posted: October 14, 2015 - 10:27pm | Updated: October 15, 2015 - 12:00am
So, the city commission is considering a resolution that seeks to address the issue of disruptive behavior at municipal meetings.
Job No. 1 will be coming up with an all-encompassing definition of the word “disruptive.” You can’t fix it if you don’t know what it is. If we give it a name and make it a law, will that mandate enforcement when the infraction may be legal but unnecessary?
Certainly the words, “heckling,” “jeering” and “booing” would be part of the definition. But had those criteria been enforced to the letter of the law over the past couple of months, several dozen of our citizens would have been escorted out of meetings for doing just that — and more.
The resolution will seek to include a few protocols for board members’ manners as well. Ironically, the mayor and one council member had a mini-tiff Monday night during the actual discussion of playing nice from their own side of the dais.
In the end, the idea is to make city meetings an open and safe place for comment, where residents and neighbors aren’t afraid to speak. That’s a tough thing to quantify, let alone to codify.
So how successful will a resolution draped in resultant legalese actually be? Will we stumble over it, or lean too heavily upon it? And won’t different commissioners, HARB or PZB members use it differently? Will some use it selectively?
Another problem is this: When we make a new rule such as this, we not only have to inflict it equitably, but we also have to be ready and able to enforce it. And “that’s a genuine concern,” says city attorney Isabelle Lopez.
The resolution will apply to all city boards, but only the city commission meetings require a police officer be present in the event of the need to hustle a “disruptive” participant out the door. And, truly, there have been more and nastier disturbances at HARB and zoning meetings recently than commission meetings. So if we agree that a rule without any means of enforcement is a neutered notion, we’ll need to have city police officers at these meetings as well. That is probably where this will all end up.
And it’s a shame that we’ve come to a point where we need armed intervention at public meetings. It may be that the electronic screening already in place at the door of the Alcazar Room will be extended to the citizen boards as well.
Finally, the elephant in the room remains the First Amendment, and how it can chafe against decorum and simply getting the job of running a meeting done.
There is no absolute right or wrong here, but there is a legal precedent by our own district court from a decade ago when a speaker was removed from a city council meeting in Jacksonville — and subsequently sued.
The court found that council had “significant governmental interest in managing an efficient council meeting agenda, in conserving time, in ensuring that others had an opportunity to speak, and in preventing the Plaintiff’s disruption, and thus in having her removed from the meeting as a reasonable attempt to regulate the time, place and manner of the Plaintiff’s speech ...
“A presiding officer at a meeting has the authority to maintain order and keep debate to the topic at hand: To hold otherwise — to deny the presiding officer the authority to regulate irrelevant debate and disruptive behavior at a public meeting — would cause such meetings to drag on interminably, and deny others the opportunity to voice their opinions.”
Write the resolution, if you will. But common sense and mutual respect might prove a more stationary target, given the slippery slope of subjectivity involved.