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Councilwoman Proposes Options To Crack Down On Hecklers At Richmond Meetings

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Richmond City Hall

Richmond City Hall (City of Richmond)

RICHMOND (CBS SF) — A Richmond city councilwoman is proposing a resolution to crack down on disruptions that frequently derail the City’s Council meetings.

The council is set to vote at its meeting tonight on a proposal by Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles asking City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller to draft a resolution establishing penalties for “repeated disruptive outbursts” at council meetings.

The resolution targets those who repeatedly disrupt meeting proceedings with outbursts or vulgar or offensive language. Repeat disruptors keep the council from conducting business and infringe on the democratic process by intimidating others from participating, Beckles has said.

“Rather than shut down the process, the resolution aims to discourage repeat interruptions, not bar any specific individual from City Council meetings,” a statement from the councilwoman’s office reads.

City Councilman Tom Butt agreed that a policy addressing repeat disruptors is needed in Richmond, where he said disruptions have been a problem at council meetings for years.

“I think everybody recognizes that there’s a very thin line between allowing someone their First Amendment rights, and more importantly their rights under the Brown Act, and putting up with disruption,” Butt said.

The state’s Brown Act requires open and public meetings for local legislative agencies.

“I think what we’re trying to do is define where that line is and try to use it to our advantage to try to bring some decorum to the City Council meetings and allow us to get on with our work,” Butt said.

Possible options to deal with repeat disruptors at meetings include suspending them from the meeting, charging them with a misdemeanor or adopting a “civility policy” that all speakers must agree to when they register to address the council at meetings, according to a city staff report.

Beckles cited several other cities across the country, including Richmond, Virginia, Cincinnati, Dallas and Santa Monica, that have enacted consequences for those who repeatedly disrupt city council meetings.

Currently, the city has no policy that addresses punishment for people who repeatedly disrupt council meetings, although the city’s penal code states that anyone may be charged with a misdemeanor for disturbing City Council meetings at a police officer’s discretion.

Tonight’s meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers at 440 Civic Center Plaza.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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