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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?

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Bruce Holloway
Monday Feb 10th, 2014 7:27 AM
Robert, what you wrote is more concise than your usual missive, but it contains some inconsistencies. The headline says, "Council to Reaffirm" and I wondered when I read it why they need to do that (on an annual basis?). Then in the body you say, "expansion of decorum rules". Well, which is it? Reaffirmation or expansion?

You say, "The new rules will allow the Council to continue to exclude individual public input on Consent Agenda items..." This is false, and would contradict state law (Government Code 54954.3(a)) which says:

Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an
opportunity for members of the public to directly address the
legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or
during the legislative body's consideration of the item, that is
within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body...

Every notice for a special
meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to
directly address the legislative body concerning any item that has
been described in the notice for the meeting before or during
consideration of that item.

Then you say, "The highly-restrictive Consent Agenda rules have been set in cement disallowing members of the public the opportunity to speak on the items individually." According to state law, they can't "disallow" comment on any item! You might have a complaint about the amount of time, or the placement of the time, whether your time might be before the consent agenda is voted on or whether the items will be placed later and you'll get time on each item, but those are all policy decisions which aren't black and white in the Brown Act. Just by the way, I spoke on three consent agenda items at the last county Board of Supervisors meeting and before doing so asked Chair Zach Friend if I could have one minute on each item. He agreed; had he not agreed, he would probably have put those items at the end of the agenda and I would've had to wait until the end of the meeting. Then I might've gotten more time on each item. But I kept those remarks in total to the three minutes usually allotted for public comment at Board of Supervisors meetings.

You also mention that Mayor Robinson cut the time for Oral Communications from three minutes as stated on the agenda to two. There is a case, Chaffee v. San Francisco Library Commission

which says public comment may be restricted to two minutes when there are many items and many speakers and the meeting lasted over four hours. I agree with you that it is less clear that the City's decision to restrict oral communications to two minutes would be considered to be "reasonable" when there are fewer speakers such that the comments would take less than the time allotted. In other words, there might be grounds for a legal challenge to an arbitrary and capricious two-minute rule.

Your citation of your mock salute case is unconvincing because ultimately you lost that case. I think you have a valid point that the proposed resolution is poorly crafted and potentially illegal ("indecorous language", "references to personalities", and "boisterous ... language", whatever those are). But it might be necessary to make that case a few blocks away, at the Superior Court.
by Robert Norse
Monday Feb 10th, 2014 2:16 PM
Thanks for your thoughts.

I mention both "reaffirmation" and "expansion" because most of the resolution is a reaffirmation, but some of it is an expansion. Sorry I was unclear.

The Council does allow a short 2 minute period to comment on the entire Consent Agenda. However, the Council does not allow, as it previously did, 2 minutes of comment on individual items the public wants to pull from the agenda and speak on individually. While it's true that you can either (a) beg the Council to pull an item for individual comment and vote, and then perhaps be able to speak (unless Robinson follows Bryant's precedent and claims that in your begging argument you have "already spoken"), or (b) cram any and all comments about the half dozen to two dozen items on the agenda into a 2 minute period (perhaps talking at Woody Woodpecker speed). This, as I've said is an unusually repressive and public-censoring process not followed by most other councils and supes.

You are quite correct that the Council is likely to brook no changes, and for those with time, money, and/or expertise, the courts are a theoretical avenue of redress.

Still my point was to inform the public. Most specifically of the 9th's ruling that a violation of the rules is not a disruption per se. While I lost my jury trial on securing damages for the false arrest in the mock-Nazi salute case; the court upheld the more important precedent regarding the definition of a disruption not being a simple rules violation. Hence, threats from the Mayor can be ignored unless you are actually disrupting the meeting.

So, for instance, if Mayor R interrupts you as you criticize a particular staff member's behavior by name using salty (but presumably accurate) language, you should encourage her not to interrupt you and proceed to talk as though she hadn't. If she cuts off your microphone, raise your voice. If she directs you to leave, ignore the request. Simply don't disrupt the meeting however outrageous the treatment you get. But do take your time to speak and don't be intimidated from your right to be at the meeting, hold up a sign, record the proceedings (even with an "unattended" recording device). And, as I understand it, you'll be within your rights and even within the law. If they choose to recess--and thus disrupt--their own meeting in order to have you arrested to evict you, request to know what the charge is, who's doing so, and consider a civil lawsuit once charges are dropped (or never filed--as in my case). It's also helpful to have some audio and/or video record to indicate you behaved in a peaceful law-abiding manner.

I suggest folks keep their cool, assert their rights peacefully and persistently. And get plenty of documentation (easier these days with video on the cell phones) if the Council arrogantly oversteps--as It has a number of times in the past.

Then it's always possible some contingency-seeking lawyer may well come out of the woodwork to work his legal lala.
by Ursula Z
Tuesday Feb 11th, 2014 5:35 PM
Pretty much every rule that Norse is talking about here has been tailor fitted to his specific behavior at council meetings. None of this would even be on the table if it wasn't for him. That's not some personal attack. It's a fact.

One can quarrel with whether the rules are constitutional or overly broad and chilling, but there's really no question as to whom they're intended for.

The Norse Noose may be intended for one person, but it hurts everyone. I wonder if Norse thinks about that night and regrets any part he has had in instigating this repression. I hope so.
by Robert Norse
Wednesday Feb 12th, 2014 5:17 PM
...Ursula Z can be more specific?

And also let us know if she favors these rules.
by Razer Ray
Wednesday Feb 12th, 2014 7:09 PM
I don't think Ursula Z needs to explain. I've spelled out a number of your behaviors Robert, in comments left... and removed on IndyBay. I went into some detail about those behaviors and what they constitute in the overall scheme of things

I've accused you, with evidence, of literally working for Take Back Santa Cruz as the end result of your 'homeless activism' For instance TBSC bashing based on a bogus video they used to distance themselves from some offshoot called Clean Team You promoted the video hysterically even as I was pleadin on the thread to note it's fraudulent nature and then you were duped by a supposed renegade member of the Clean Team over the same issue

That's just ONE THING Robert. You seriously violated my PerSec intentionally a few times to people neither of us knew, and generally you're a 'hazard to navigation' for anyone actually seeking to change anything around here because you will actively interfere with others if it doesn't happen your way.

Like the time @ PEaceCamp2010 where you INTENTIONALLY blew a MSM interviewer's cam shot by mugging in the background so the film would be unusable. Footage of an independent homeless person speaking to the press.

But YOU wanted the camera on YOU so you FUCKED UP THE FOOTAGE INTENTIONALLY. I Pointed it out to you in process of filming and you SHRUGGED then continued to make that MSM PR footage trash.

Mo no Robert Ursula Z needs to explain. It's obvious to even the most casual observer.
by Robert Norse
Wednesday Feb 12th, 2014 11:23 PM
Good forum tonight on Surveillance ( had Councilmember Posner apologizing for not opposing the license-reocgnition software, but upholding his (and other Councilmembers' unilateral unusual power to stop a public hearing on any Consent Agenda item unless they "give permission" (to have it pulled from the agenda for individual testimony and vote.

However more people seem to be getting educated and aware on this issue. Posner has said he will allow anyone 2 minutes to speak on any item. But he will not let the public know that openly nor will he make it a practice of ending this Coonerty-era practice of the untouchable Consent Agenda by simply announcing that if anyone wants to make individual commentary on an item, he will pull it--as most other legislative bodies do.

Add a Comment While it's true, City Council often doesn't like the issues I raise, that makes it even less appropriate (even less legal considering the Open Meetings or Brown Act that requires City Council to hear stuff they may not like to hear) to alter the rules.

However, it is false to suggest that any illegitimate behavior on my part has prompted a necessary change in the Council rules--that's the line of Rotkin, Coonerty, and others who delight in handing over the meeting to the staff and rubberstamping their reports while ignoring or shortsheeting public comment. Trying to shut up individual members of the public on homeless issues was the original reason for shortening Oral Communications back in 1988, for all you history buffs.
by Razer Ray
Friday Feb 14th, 2014 10:39 AM
RN: "However, it is false to suggest that any illegitimate behavior on my part has prompted a necessary change in the Council rules--that's the line of Rotkin, Coonerty, and others"

THIS! → "that's the line of Rotkin, Coonerty, and others..."

So? NO ONE is wrong ALL the time.

It's also a shallow ploy to divert attention from your own misbehavior by painting your critics as what? A "Rotkin" or "Coonerty" luvr? Ohhhh! I'm Sooooo Offended! Listen Robert... only your idiot cult followers will nod at that as if it means anything at all significant.

Further, the digression from the forum topic to an UN-associated issue... That's not news considering there's jack squat the ACLU fan club or anyone can really do about it now (everything but the plate readers, including the database, has been in-place for most of the last decade. The SCPD's had a federally supplied associative database since the enhanced 911 system was installed in the late 60s), and they had to talk about something else they're not going to do anything about.

But I can stay on topic, and the topic is YOU Robert. Who cannot ADMIT you are a (not 'the', 'a'... one of many) problems with 'activism' in Santa Cruz. Specifically the problem being an inability to stay within the boundaries of whatever issue you're opportuning on at the moment.

You're thinking a forum on state surveillance has ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to do with consent agenda speaking time illustrates the issue amply.

You're simply indiscriminate. Loose cannon on deck. Self-promoting your own issue.

An issue you created.

Tell me Robert. Besides giving the Council the opportunity to cut back public input (much the way you gave TBSC a chance to 'distance' itself from the 'clean team') and the chance to get your face in the news, what other effect did your little Dr. Strangelovian pantomime in front of them have on the fate of the homeless (as a 'representative' of those who wish to remain unrepresented among other issues you've glommed onto often against the wishes of the people you're allegedly 'organizing') in Santa Cruz or any other issue?

by Wedge Talon
Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 5:39 AM
" 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.”

Well written and good points as usual Rob. Speaking as technically computer skilled person, the councils' streaming video online leaves a LOT to be desired. First off, you cannot download it in ANY easy way. To do so would require a second hardware device to record it into or a piece of software which might cost money. They are using Microsoft Silverlight to stream it and that format is locked down and near impossible to capture with freeware software; being the opposite the Free radio shoutcast stream which is open and easy. Second problem is that if they won't allow download for offline play and personal archiving or live capture of the stream in progress we run the risk of them pulling past meetings or censoring things after the fact if no one can make a REAL live record. What needs to be done is an FLV, Mp4, or AVI open file format needs to be provided for download no later than 24 hours from when the council meeting ended. Third problem is that the audio is sometimes miserably low or fluctuating all over the place. I'm a big fan of computers and tech, but the council or community TV has not the technical skill to get the audio right, therefore independent investigative journalists like you need to be able to make your own live council recordings. Also I recall an article in the Sentinel which said something about the council chambers getting an upgrade that had audio plug ins for the media. They could have a dedicated area with audio wiring to accommodate your tape recorder.
by Robert Norse
Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 7:33 AM
Interesting info, Wedge.

I also suggest that folks who want to get a copy of the Council's video (before it's removed or altered), contact the City Clerk and ask that a copy be made (it's $1 per meeting). Initially they were demanding advance payment before making a disc (which meant two trips down there for the low-technies), but under pressure, they changed that at least for a time. Still it's useful to leave a deposit there if you are intending to get copies of more than one meeting and want to avoid unnecessary trips.

Not to be led too far off track by personal attack, I'd add that while I have an abiding interest in civil liberties, particularly as they impact people outside, I'm no one's representative and have never claimed to be. However the restrictions on public comment began when massive homeless protests began at City Council back in the fall of 1988 after City Council ignored its own Human Relations Task Force's very mild recommendation that homeless vehicular dwellers only be cited if there is an actual complaint. And Rotkin was a part of that coterie of "progressive on NIcaragua; repressive in Santa Cruz" gang of 7.

I encourage people to hold Councilmember Posner's feet to the fire on the Consent Agenda rules. He agreed at the Surveillance Forum (and before) to make sure that members of the public would have 2 minutes to speak on each Consent Agenda item they found worthy of content. For those who don't find the City Council worse than hopeless, go to the next City Council meeting and attempt to speak for 2 minutes on 2 or 3 Consent Agenda items. See if Posner keeps his word.
by Razer Ray
Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 9:43 PM
RN: "However the restrictions on public comment began when massive homeless protests began at City Council back in the fall of 1988 after City Council ignored its own Human Relations Task Force's very mild recommendation that homeless vehicular dwellers only be cited if there is an actual complaint. "

No Robert the restrictions on public comments we're discussing began with a Godwin's law violation on your part.

Even now, the changes you object to are OBVIOUSLY tailored towards your behavior and you will not admit it.

Not mine. Not Steve at the Bike Church, or John Colby, or anyone else I've ever seen speak in front of the council... YOUR behaviors.

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