The Compton City Council has taken several steps regarding citizen participation in council meetings including removing public comments from local cable coverage of the meetings. -db
Los Angeles Wave
September 22, 2010
By Leiloni De Gruy
COMPTON, Calif. — Seen by some residents as another attempt to silence their voices, the city council voted 3-1 to remove the public comment segment from its local cable telecasts.
The Sept. 14 move followed a “minute motion” on the Sept. 7 agenda. There was no staff report to address why such an action was considered or taken.
However Mayor Eric Perrodin and council members Lillie Dobson and Barbara Calhoun saw fit in removing what they have called in past meetings “slanderous” and “vicious” statements that prevent them from conducting city business. Councilman Willie Jones was the lone dissenting vote and Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux was absent.
In addition, the city clerk’s office is no longer selling videotaped copies of the council meetings, which had cost members of the public about $20. A representative of the clerk’s office stated that the policy began at the beginning of this month but could not provide a reason behind it.
But some residents, interviewed last week outside the Compton Superior Court, harbored suspicions about the council’s intent.
Guillermo Rodriguez said he “didn’t think this would happen, but in a way I saw it coming,” referring to residents’ being unable to watch a month’s worth of heated council meetings after the city failed to renew its contract with the cable provider. He also pointed to last year’s changes to the rules of decorum in the council chambers, which limit public speaking time and restrict certain outbursts or gestures.
“It’s not right, they are violating people’s rights and trying to silence us,” added Rodriguez. “They are trying to keep the community from knowing what’s really going on.”
Shameeka Thomlinson does not “think they should take [the public comments] out,” she said. “They are only saying what they see happening in the city. We need to know because the city isn’t going to tell us. And a lot of us look for that [in the telecasts] because we can’t make it to the meetings. … Something is wrong here. They must be trying to hide something.”
It was in September 2009 that the city council voted to change the rules of conduct that govern citizen participation during council meetings.
According to the ordinance, “each person who addresses the Council shall do so in an orderly manner and shall not make personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane remarks to any member of the Council, staff or general public.” In addition, “no person in the audience at a Council meeting shall engage in disorderly or boisterous conduct, including the utterance of loud, threatening or abusive language, whistling, [or] stamping of feet…”
Each person must also address their comments to the Council as a whole and cannot single out any member unless in response to a question from that particular member.
Violators are to first be given a verbal warning, after which the person will be asked to leave for the duration of the meeting. If the person does not remove him or herself, any Council member holds the right to have them removed by force by law enforcement. A person resisting removal may be charged and found guilty of a misdemeanor.
Beyond the rules of decorum, audience members no longer have three minutes to comment per item on the agenda. Instead, they have a total of five minutes to address any and all items on the agenda, as well as non-agenda matters, in the early part of the meeting; that is before the items are brought up and considered by the Council. During public hearings, persons commenting are limited to two minutes.
Since its implementation, at least three speakers have either been threatened with removal or removed from council chambers and barred from the following meeting.
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