By Sean Paden | Take a look at Item #5 on Tuesday’s Fullerton City Council agenda (on the consent calendar). This is an amendment to the rules of decorum for City Council meetings. It isn’t all bad, but there are some troubling changes. The biggest? This little doozy found in Section 2:
“To encourage citizen participation and expression of all points of view, clapping, booing or shouts of approval or disagreement from the audience are not allowed.”
Got that? To encourage free speech, free speech is now curtailed. Oh, and on top of that, per Section 14(A) speaker cards are required for ALL agenda items the speaker wishes to comment on and per Section 14(C) public comments after 30 minutes are reserved for the end of the meeting. So what happens if a speaker wishes to use public comments to pull a consent item from the calendar?
As anyone who has attempted any kind of community activism at the local level knows, persuading otherwise disengaged residents to show up for a City Council meeting is the most effective method of persuading the local agency to listen to your concern and vote accordingly. It is also guaranteed by the First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This change not only violates the intent of the First Amendment, it also kneecaps the most effective method the general public has for persuading the City Council.
I should note that not all of the proposed changes to our rules of decorum are as objectionable, and some will constitute an improvement, such as the limiting of presentations to five minutes, and the amendment that makes it explicitly clear that signs are permitted inside the council chamber. But the proposed changes to Section 14 and especially Section 2 are an impermissible restriction on free speech and should be rejected.
I would encourage all members of the public to oppose these particular changes to the Rules of Decorum at the next City Council meeting — tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 15.