Adios, Free Speech - The Dictator Has Spoken!
Next Tuesday evening, July 1st, very near the end of the scheduled City Council meeting, the Costa Mesa City Council will be asked to consider replacing an existing section of the Municipal Code - section 2-61, Propriety of conduct while addressing the council, with a completely new version of this ordinance titled Conduct While Addressing The Council.
"BENITO ACOSTA" TAUGHT US NOTHING!
The lengthy staff report, HERE, outlines why the contract legal council, to which we pay outlandish fees, think this is necessary. They use as a reference point the Benito Acosta affair in which then-mayor Allan Mansoor cut his presentation off at 2:25 and had him dragged from the council chambers because he wanted to finish his allotted three minutes. It's been nearly a decade since that event and, based on what this new ordinance says, it looks like we've learned NOTHING! And we're still paying, literally, for it to this date. References are made on almost every Warrant the council approves for charges for "Acosta Appeal", or similar entries. Ironically, the Warrant included in the Consent Calendar of this meeting staff report does NOT include an Acosta reference.
FIRST MUZZLING, NOW JAIL TIME
I've written many times in this space about the heavy-handedness of the current council majority and, more specifically, Mayor Jim Righeimer when it comes to stifling dissent. He's manipulated the agenda to quash public comments by forcing folks to wait until the very end of the meeting - sometimes well after midnight - to step to the podium to address valid concerns with the elected leaders of this city. He frequently interrupts speakers, including fellow-councilmembers, during their specified time, which certainly breaks their thoughts and diminishes their presentations. Fortunately, Sandra Genis and Wendy Leece refuse to let him bully them.
NOT A CARROT - A CLUB
This new ordinance, if passed as it is written, provides the authority to the mayor to bludgeon speakers into submission and to abridge their right of free speech. If the council follows this advice it will be like funding a retirement annuity for Orange County lawyers, who we will have to pay to defend actions based on this bogus ordinance for decades to come!
I can see it now... "Stop talking! Somebody else already said something like that!" "Shut up, or else!" "Sir, please leave the chambers, now!" "Officer, please escort that person from the council chambers!" "Sir, I told you to leave and now you've returned! Officer, please arrest that person for violation of Section 2-61, b (8) of the Costa Mesa Municipal Code - being repetitive!"
TAKE A MINUTE TO READ IT...
I've copied and pasted the text of much of this proposed new section of the Municipal Code below. Take a couple minutes to review it. I've highlighted some of the sections I think are going to be problematic in bold red for ease of reading.
In my view, perhaps the most egregious item on this list - one that could end up with a speaker being charged with a misdemeanor if carried to the extreme, is number 8. This item describes an act of disorderly behavior as, "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." So, the mayor gets to decide whether your comments - the product of your own thought processes and passions - are "unduly repetitive" of comments made by other speakers? Really? This item, alone, tells me that we've learned nothing from the Benito Acosta affair.
I suspect some of you may find other elements of this proposed section of the Municipal Code troubling, too. To me it clearly demonstrates that the mayor will stop at nothing to clamp down on opposing views, including violating the right of free speech.
HERE'S THE TEXT OF THE NEW SECTION:
2-61 Conduct while addressing the council.
(a) Any person who engages in disorderly behavior that actually disrupts,
disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of any city council
meeting shall, upon an order by the presiding officer or a majority of the
city council, be barred from further audience before the city council during
that meeting, pursuant to the provisions of subdivision (c), below.
(b) Disorderly behavior under subdivision (a) may include, but is not limited to,
(1) Speaking without being recognized by the presiding officer.
(2) Yelling, or using a loud, disturbing voice.
(3) Using profanity or obscene gestures.
(4) Continuing to speak after the allotted time has expired.
(5) Speaking on an item at a time not designated for discussion by the
public of that item.
(6) Throwing objects.
(7) Speaking on an issue that is not within the jurisdiction of the city
(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.
(9) Attempting to engage the audience rather than the City Council.
(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.
(c) Enforcement. The rules of conduct while addressing the city council set
forth above shall be enforced in the following manner:
(1) Call to order and warning to desist. Whenever practicable, the
presiding officer or a majority of the city council shall give a warning
to the person who is breaching the rules of conduct to be orderly
and to comply with the rules of conduct hereunder. Such a warning
shall articulate the rule of conduct being violated and the manner in
which the person must comply.
A warning shall not be necessary when it would not be effective
under the circumstances, including when, but not limited to, the
disturbance is such that the warning cannot be heard above the
noise, or the conduct of the person or persons constitutes an
immediate threat to public safety, such as the throwing of objects or
specific threats of harm and the apparent, present ability to carry
out such threats. A warning shall also not be necessary when an
individual violates the rules of conduct more than once during a
council meeting, or continuously violates the rules of conduct
council meeting after council meeting.
(2) Order barring person from meeting. A person who engages in
disorderly behavior shall be barred from the remainder of that
council meeting by the presiding officer or a majority of the city
council when that person: (i) continues the disorderly behavior after
receiving a warning pursuant to subdivision (c)(1); (ii) ceases the
disorderly behavior upon receiving a warning pursuant to
subdivision (c)(1), but later in the same council meeting resumes
such disorderly behavior; or (iii) engages in disorderly behavior and
no warning is practicable under the circumstances, pursuant to
The continuation of disorderly behavior after receiving a warning,
repeated disorderly behavior during a council meeting, disorderly
behavior at council meeting after council meeting, or disorderly
behavior that is so significant that a warning cannot be given,
constitutes the type of behavior that actually disrupts, disturbs or
otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of a city council meeting.
(3) Removal. If the person barred from the meeting does not voluntarily
remove him/herself upon being instructed to do so by the presiding
officer or a majority of the city council, the presiding officer or the
majority of the city council may direct the sergeant-at-arms to
remove that person from the council chambers.
(d) The following conduct shall be unlawful and shall be punishable as a
(1) Continuing to engage in disorderly conduct, which disrupts, disturbs
or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of any city council
meeting, after receiving a warning pursuant to subdivision (c)(1) of
(2) Refusing to leave a city council meeting after being directed to do
so pursuant to subdivision (c)(2) of this section.
(3) Returning to a council meeting after being barred, removed or
directed to leave such meeting pursuant to subdivisions (c)(2) and
(c)(3) of this section.
YOU MAY WISH TO ADDRESS THIS ONE...
As the mayor continues to steamroll over our rights, I suspect there may be one or two of you who feel strongly enough about this to step to the speaker's podium Tuesday evening to address it with the council. Keep in mind that it's not the law yet, and the old ordinance had the word "insolent" removed from it because that was a problem. So, I guess you can be insolent if you wish - I don't recommend it, though. And, I certainly don't recommend you echo resident Tim Lewis from the last council meeting. Otherwise, just tell them how you feel.
A VIDEO REMINDER...
And now, Benito Acosta, Allan Mansoor, and former Police Chief John Hensley reprise their roles in this video clip. As an aside, look for Tea Partier Phil Morello, bellowing at the top of his lungs at the very end of the clip. It's always a pleasure...