By Anne Lowe
American Canyon City Council's frequent critic, Marianne Young, says she may pursue legal options after her comments to the council were cut off at a recent meeting.
Young says Mayor Leon Garcia gaveled her prepared speech about “childish behavior” by the newly elected council majority on election night, saying he would not allow “personal attacks.”
The Vallejo Times-Herald reports:
First Amendment expert Terry Francke said the Brown Act gives city councils the authority to adopt procedural rules governing the process, and "to set reasonable time limits on each speaker, on each topic, or on some combination of those categories." He also said the rules must be applied evenly "and not just because one doesn't like what's being said."
A frequent meeting attendee, Young said she'd prepared a short speech chastising the local winners of the recent elections for "childish behavior" on election night.
"I was going to tell them it's not acceptable to get in a limo and drive to (defeated councilman) Ed West's house and (defeated councilman) Don Callison was there, too, and shout taunts at them," Young said. "When (Garcia) gaveled me, I got flustered. I didn't know what it meant. I've never seen it happen before. I left."
When Young brought up the election night incident, Garcia stopped her, saying he wasn't going to allow "personal attacks."
But Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, The Center for Public Forum Rights, said he may not have had the legal right to do that.
"Local government bodies are prohibited by both the Brown Act and the First Amendment from (gagging the public) from expressing criticism of the behavior of city council members at city council meetings," Francke said. "There is no 'personal attacks' exception to free speech in such circumstances."
Garcia said "our city attorney has a different perspective on it."
"I didn't prevent her from speaking, I just said I wasn't going to allow personal attacks," Garcia said. "We continue to conduct our business with respect, courtesy and decorum for the public."
City Attorney William Ross said protocol was followed during the incident. "We have reasonable rules and they have to be followed," Ross said. A council member or Young would have had to object to the gaveling for Ross to step in, he said.
"If an issue is raised, I resolve it," he said.