Decorum Rules Up for Tighter Revision at City Council Tuesday in Santa Cruz 2-11

Council To Reaffirm Repressive “Decorum” Rules Tuesday Afternoon
by Robert Norse
Sunday Feb 9th, 2014 8:26 PM

At the afternoon session of City Council, which starts at 2:30 PM, Council is due to ratify tightened Council rules on audience conduct. It will also be voting in destruction of various city records, including what remains of the audio from the old Citizens Police Review Board. I summarize below my take on it. Councilmember Posner, however, didn’t seem too interested. The new rules will allow the Council to continue to exclude individual public input on Consent Agenda items (the meat of the City Council agenda and its most expensive items) in contrast to procedures at most other local legislatures and at the Board of Supervisors.

Discussing homeless (or other) issues in the tiny amount of time allowed the public at the twice-monthly City Council meetings under Mayor “Rattlesnake” Robinson (who gives little warning) faces increased threat with her upcoming expansion of “decorum” rules this Tuesday ( shortly after 2:30 PM February 11). At the last meeting she cut short Oral Communications time at 5 PM to 2 minutes per speaker, though there was adequate time for the usual 3 minutes within the arbitrary 30 minute time period set for public input.

The “rules” formally eliminate the Oral Communications period historically held at 7 PM in the evening (when it was actually available for most workers–rather than at its current 5 PM “doghouse” time–when most of the audience has either left or not arrived). The highly-restrictive Consent Agenda rules have been set in cement disallowing members of the public the opportunity to speak on the items individually. A provision attacking independent journalists reads “No audio/visual recording devices may be left unattended at the speaker’s lectern or elsewhere in the Council Chambers.”

The provision that prompted an 11-year court battle and cost the City $125,000+ in the mock-Nazi salute case has been made worse instead of corrected. It now reads: ” … Any person making personal, impertinent, or slanderous remarks, or becoming boisterous or otherwise disrupting the Council meeting shall be barred by the presiding officer from further attendance at said meeting unless permission for continued attendance is granted by a majority vote of the Council… Every member of the public and every Councilmember desiring to speak shall address the presiding officer, and upon recognition by the presiding officer, shall confine comments to the question under debate, avoiding all indecorous language and references to personalities … Upon instructions of the presiding officer it shall be the duty of the sergeant-at-arms or any police officer present to eject from the Council Chambers any person in the audience who uses boisterous or profane language, or language tending to bring the Council or any Councilmember into contempt…”

A new sentence has been added: “Persons who disrupt a Council meeting while in session are subject to arrest and prosecution.” In other words, rein in your criticism of the Council, the cops, and bigots in the community who are harassing homeless people either under color of law or otherwise. Don’t name names, use tame language, make sure what you’re saying is decorous, even if the abusive behavior you’re describing (stealing homeless property, arresting people for sleeping or sitting) is not.

Actually the rules–for those really determined to make use of their rights–are largely a bluff. According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals–which twice rejected the City Attorney’s attempt to crush a trial on the issue–actual disruption rather than a mere violation of city rules is what’s required before anyone can be lawfully arrested and/or prosecuted. But most folks will back down rather than peacefully and persistently assert their right to speak over the threats of a mayor backed by an armed uniformed officer. Besides, what’s the point of talking when the Council almost habitually rubberstamps the staff’s prefabricated outcome, regardless of the public input?