Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, with the assistance of his Imperial Court, is again attacking the right of the public to disagree with the policy agenda he has for the city. First it was arbitrarily limiting public comment to a handful of randomly selected speakers at the beginning of Council meetings, pushing the remainder of speakers to the end of the meeting when all Council business has been concluded. Now Righeimer has decided that the Mayor should be able to censor comments that are (in the Mayor’s opinion) outside the jurisdiction of the city council or attempting to engage the audiance rather than the city council, by making such commentary a crime, a misdemeanor.
Voice of OC reported earlier this week on the outrage expressed by the two women on the Costa Mesa City Council over his proposal.
Costa Mesa’s two councilwomen have publicly criticized a proposed city ordinance that bans “unduly repetitive” public comments, calling it an attempt to restrict the free speech of residents.
Under the proposal, which is up for a vote tonight, speakers at council meetings who the mayor sees as causing a disruption by repeating themselves or others could be ordered to leave the meeting and, conceivably, be charged with a misdemeanor if they refuse.
“I have real concerns about it because over the past year I’ve seen a concerted effort to restrict the ability of the public to participate,” said Councilwoman Sandy Genis, a member of the council minority.
“It’s the 4th of July on Friday, and what’s this about?”
Councilwoman Wendy Leece called the proposed ordinance “offensive” and said it is an example of Mayor Jim Righeimer’s “open disdain for the people who don’t agree with him.”
“He definitely does not like to hear negative comments from Costa Mesa residents that oppose something the council is doing,” she added. “This is another attempt to silence those people.”
Last night, Righeimer, his M&M’s, Council Members Monahan and Mensinger, and Council Member Genis approved the ordinance making it a misdemeanor to engage in “disorderly behavior that actually disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of any city council meeting.”
The ordinance, as originally proposed, lists a variety of conduct that can be a violation including; “Continuing to speak after being informed by the presiding officer that the comments are unduly repetitive of either prior comments from that speaker or comments by other speakers.”
Here is the ordinance as proposed.
After discussion however, the proposal was revised to eliminate numbers 2, 3 and 8 and combine numbers 10 and 11 of the list of identified offences.
(2) Yelling, or using a loud, disturbing voice.
(3) Using profanity or obscene gestures.
(8) Continuing to speak after being informed by the presiding officer that the comments are unduly repetitive of either prior comments from that speaker or comments by other speakers.
(10) Disobeying any lawful order of the presiding officer or a majority of the city council.
(11) Refusing to modify conduct after being advised by the presiding officer that the conduct is disrupting the meeting.
While the modifications to the original proposal make the ordinance much more palatable, it still allows the mayor to have someone charged with a criminal offense because they exercised there first amendment rights. There is no need to make public conduct at city council meetings subject to criminal charges by act of the presiding officer. Even if charges are eventually dropped, they can remain part of a persons record.
The vote was 4-1, with Councilwoman Leece dissenting. Geoff West has a great wrap-up of the meeting here.