Council Adopts New Public-Comment Rules
A council committee adopts new rules restricting public comment "outbursts"; calling council members "motherfuckers," however, is still allowed.
A council committee adopted new rules (our initial report is here) that will limit "outbursts" during public-comment periods at committee and full council meetings today. The change, however, won't prevent the sort of outburst "Stand Up America" commenter Alex Zimmerman made at the start of today's meeting, when he repeatedly called the council "Nazis," "Communists," "fucking idiots," and "dirty motherfuckers."
The new rules give the presiding officer at a council meeting the right to kick a commenter out of council meetings for up to 28 days (up from the originally proposed 14, since council committees may not meet for several weeks on end) for "outbursts" from the audience or from disruptions that block other people from speaking.
The new rules also limit public comment in front of committees to "matters within the purview of the specific committee or an item listed on that day's agenda." That change actually could broaden the scope of public comment at committees, because committee chairs currently have the discretion to limit public comment to items that are actually on their agendas. Public comment at full council would remain limited to items on the agenda.
However, to the chagrin of council members like Sally Bagshaw, who has been verbally abused by Stand Up America's Sam Bellomio (who ran against Bagshaw this year) over and over, the rules don't prohibit foul language or outbursts at the public speakers' podium, as long as they're relevant to legislation or the business of a specific committee.
"When I see folks that have an agenda, that ... have something that they want to push that has nothing to do with what we’re discussing, it makes me feel like we’re just wasting time," Bagshaw said. "While I really want to have a dialogue with those people … when we’re not moving the discussion forward … it really does a disservice to the people in the audience who really want to speak."
If the council adopts these rules, Bagshaw asked Clark, "does it mean that any expletive, anything they want to say, they can stand up and say—just do a tirade for two minutes before we let them go? ... In no way do I want to be stopping someone from speaking when they have someone to say, yet oftentimes we have seen things that have nothing to do with the agenda."
Clark responded, "A lot of what Alex and Sam say at the mike is extremely objectionable, just from a political philosophy standpoint. When they talk about their dramatic fantasy—the Mafia, the Gestapo, all this other stuff—I think it is really offensive to those of us who take those words seriously." However, Clark added, the First Amendment allows them to stand up and rant incoherently (and profanely) if they want to.
Not that Clark approves. "The fact that he's standing up there and saying 'motherfucker' over and over while there's an 18-month-old walking around"—the child of another Stand Up America activist—"is certainly not behavior I'm willing to condone," Clark tells PubliCola.
As for Bagshaw's concerns, Clark says, "She's had to put up with a lot this year. Stand Up America didn't, perhaps, do quite as well at the polls as they had hoped and she's had to live with it a little more than most of us, and certainly they let loose on her in chambers during the campaign."
We have a call out to Bagshaw for her take on the new rules.