Council Looks to Strengthen Rules for Chamber Decorum

The City Council’s rules and regulations subcommittee is looking at amending two council rules that will help ensure greater safety and decorum within the council chambers.

Councillors Todd Taylor and Calvin Brown made suggestions to amend two council rules at the Monday night subcommittee meeting. One pertains to public speaking during the council meetings, and the other relates to behavior of the councillors themselves.

“The reason for this meeting was to revisit the rules of the council, especially as it pertains to decorum and proper etiquette during city council meetings,” said Taylor.

Taylor suggested changes to the public speaking rule that could lead to the removal of a speaker if they use obscenity, violent language, or slander a councillor.

“I’m all for people who want to get up and say I want to disagree with so and so about such and such,” said Taylor. “That’s democracy and that’s within the rules, but when you start getting up and making slanderous statements about people, that’s out of bounds and I think that should be prohibited.”

Taylor said there have been issues in the past where councillors have been threatened and the chambers have become chaotic.

“My intent on doing this is to be proactive and try to head off these types of situations,” said Taylor. “I can’t think of a situation where it would be okay for some member of the public to come up here and make slanderous statements against somebody. It doesn’t forward any kind of debate and they don’t allow it in basically any kind of legislative body.

“Legislative bodies have rules, and these are the particular types of rules that we are missing right now.”

Taylor said the council president should be able to stop someone from speaking if they are out of order, and have them leave the chambers if they do not obey the order.

Brown said there should be a system in place where someone who uses profanity or slanderous language is given a warning, and then asked to leave. 

Brown said the council also has to look at its rules to make sure the councillors are setting a good example for the public.

“If you want respect, you have to give respect and you have to look at how the public is viewing us,” said Brown. “Do they view us as respectful?”

District 3 Councillor Norieliz DeJesus said she agreed that she wants the public to be disrespectful in the council chambers.

“But I want to be very mindful of the wording and the message that is sent,” she said. “When we try to implement something like this, we want to continue to encourage the community to come and speak their voice.”

City Council Clerk Paul Casino noted that many of the issues Taylor and Brown were speaking to fall under the duties of the council president.

“This isn’t really new,” said Casino, noting that there were several incidents years ago when the police had to be called to the council chambers to restore order. “It was the duty of the president to stop the person from attacking you and it was the duty of the president to prevent councillors from attacking each other.”

Casino said the council might want to be more specific about the powers of the president when it comes to keeping up decorum in the council chambers.

Taylor said he would submit an amendment to the rules in writing for recommendation to the full council. He said his goal is to have safeguards in place for future councillors no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.

“I’m not worried about what people say, I’m not worried about my feelings getting hurt, that doesn’t matter, “ said Taylor, who added that he and his family have been threatened with physical violence in the past. “What matters is that we can’t allow people to get out of control and talk violently or slander somebody or use obscenities in our house. We have to do something that actually constrains that type of behavior and punishes them if they don’t stop by people being asked to leave.”

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