City Att'y Shannon Upholds Public Speakers' Right To Dissent On War With Iraq Within Discussion Of "Support Our Troops" Resolution
Background: January 21, 2003 Council proceedings
|(January 30, 2003) -- Police began to converge on the podium at the January 28th City Council meeting when a public speaker refused to yield to a Councilmember's point of order, prompted by the speaker's stated opposition to a war with Iraq within discussion of a "support our troops" resolution.|
Courtesy HTTV, Channel 21
The matter was defused, and the police promptly stood down, when LB City Attorney Robert Shannon stated:
"The issue they're raising is sufficiently related to the subject matter at hand that they should be allowed to speak. And it's not a matter of whether you agree with them or disagree with them. I'm telling you that it's sufficiently related to the subject matter at hand."
Invited by Mayor Beverly O'Neill to further explain his ruling, City Attorney Shannon stated:
"You can't arbitrarily restrict public comment on a particular item before you to a specific, narrow area of whether you oppose or are against the motion. I'm satisfied that these folks are talking about something that's sufficiently related to the subject matter, keeping in mind that the Brown Act contemplates that the public shall have a very broad right to comment to the City Council on matters that are before the City Council, and that's my feeling."
The proposed resolution, eventually adopted on a 9-0 vote, declared the Council's support "for [the city's] citizens and employees in the United States military reserves and the California National Guard who have been, or will be, called to active duty, and offers support and encouragement to their families." [Full text with "whereas" clauses at conclusion of this article.]
At the January 21, 2003 Council meeting Vice Mayor Frank Colonna and 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll proposed a resolution "in support of United States military reservists who are being called to active duty." It advanced with unanimous Council approval.
The controversy began when a public speaker tried to speak in opposition to a war with Iraq during discussion of the Colonna-Carroll agendized resolution. Councilman Carroll called a point of order and Vice Mayor Colonna (presiding in Mayor Beverly O'Neill's absence) turned off the speaker's mike.
Before the public spoke, Councilman Carroll stated: "I just might note this item is not about war or no war. Nobody wants war, nobody wants one and we hope none happens. That is not the function of the City Council to discuss that one way or the other. This is to recognize and honor our men and women who are serving in armed forces and defending our country."
Frequent Council communicator Jim Sturm began: "This member of the public is opposed to the war..." That triggered an immediate point of order from Councilman Carroll:
"Alright, point of order. I indicated, Mr. Vice Mayor, this is not about the war, it's [inaudible] out of our Council and I don't want to listen to Mr. Sturm [cross-talk with Sturm] talk about it, sir. [cross-talk continues] Point of order and I'm requesting a ruling from the City Manager."
Vice Colonna then switched off the public podium microphone...and Mr. Sturm continued speaking with the microphone off...prompting Vice Mayor Colonna to try and quiet him:
"Mr. Sturm, if you'd please sit down. It's not that...it's a resolution supporting the men and women of the city [Sturm to Colonna off mike]...We have personnel who are being activated now in defense of the country, sir. [Sturm continues off mike]. Point of order..." Mr. Sturm finally relented, but he was soon followed by Colette Marie McLaughlin, whose daughter is in the Reserves and being activated. When Ms. McLaughlin raised misgivings about a possible Iraq war, Councilman Carroll called a point of order on her:
Ms. McLaughlin: ...I find it heavily questionable this war action that's being opposed...
Councilman Carroll: Point of order, Mr. Vice Mayor. This is not before the Council.
Vice Mayor Colonna: Please stay on the subject.
Councilman Carroll: Point of order.
Ms. McLaughlin: OK, what I find, and you're doing, Councilmember Carroll, this is part of it. You're saying a resolution...
Councilman Carroll: Point of order Mr. [sic] Mayor and I request the City Attorney to give us a ruling. The war is not something that the Council can take any action on Ma'am. You've been advised that that's the case.
Ms. McLaughlin: ...But this Reservist action that you're going to be supporting our Reservists going to war...
Councilman Carroll: No Ma'am, you don't understand. They're defending our country. That is a big distinction.
Ms. McLaughlin: And my daughter is one of those people.
Councilman Carroll: Well I'm very proud of you and I'm sure you're proud of your daughter...
Ms. McLaughlin: [intervening remarks, then]...Councilmember Carroll, for you to say, and I know you're going to interrupt me again, for you to say this has nothing to do with a war is...
Councilman Carroll: Point of order. I'm not here Ma'am to discuss the war with you, nor is the Council...
Ms. McLaughlin was allowed to finish remarks critical of the Council.
The Colonna & Carroll Jan. 21 agendizing memo noted that "Military reservists in the city of Long Beach are being called to active duty, including members of the Long Beach Police Department. It is important that they know we support them in performing their duties while defending our country and will provide support and encouragement to their families while they are on active duty."
During the item's discussion, Councilman Carroll pointed out that LB resident Sgt. Christopher Martin, a Reserve member of the CA National Guard, had performed heroically and was seriously injured in a grenade attack in Afghanistan. President George W. Bush recently visited Sgt. Martin in a Washington, D.C. area hospital.
The Council voted unanimously on January 21 to have the City Attorney prepare a resolution for a January 28 vote...setting the stage of a follow-up confrontation.
January 28, 2003 Council proceedings
On January 28, the Council's frequent communicators were outnumbered by organized speakers who showed up in force. The first speaker, a woman from ELB's 5th Council district, opened by lambasting what she called "the latest U.S. invasion of yet another weak, non-nuclear nation." This prompted 9th district Councilman Val Lerch to raise a point of order.
The speaker did not yield...and police officers slowly began to approach her.
City Attorney Shannon sought to be heard. Councilman Carroll sought a ruling from the City Attorney. The speaker continued. "Excuse me, just a moment, " City Attorney Shannon said. The Mayor restored order, the speaker relented and Mr. Shannon stated:
"Let's get this straight. The issue they're raising is sufficiently related to the subject matter at hand that they should be allowed to speak," the City Attorney said, adding "And it's not a matter of whether you agree with them or disagree with them. I'm telling you that it's sufficiently related to the subject matter at hand."
Faced with the City Attorney's unambiguous (and apparently unexpected) ruling, Councilman Carroll indicated he'd based his previous points of order on what he thought Mr. Shannon had previously opined:
Councilman Carroll: May I inquire of the City Attorney? When this issue was raised three or four weeks ago, I believe I heard the City Attorney state that unless a matter is something that is subject to the jurisdiction of the Council, that is something over which we have some basis to listen to information and take action, it would be construed to be out of order. Now it seems to me that supporting our military reservists and National Guard's members being called up, and that is something over which we can take action, the issue of war or no war is something over which we have no control. Now my memory may be inaccurate or I may have misunderstood your comments, but I would request if I did mishear or misunderstand that that be clarified. I have, and it's not ever been my intention, and I don't think any other Councilmember, to deny anyone the right to speak here. However, there are also parliamentary rules that should be observed and my objections last week were on the basis of what I understood Mr. Shannon's remarks to be. If I was in error, or misunderstood, I stand corrected.
City Attorney Shannon responded:
"Strictly speaking, as a general rule, the public may only comment on those matters within the jurisdiction of the City Council. However, when the City Council undertakes to pass resolutions that relate generally to a particular subject matter, it 'opens the door' as they say in a court of law. You have opened the door and therefore the public may speak."
Councilwoman Jackie Kell referred to a Press-Telegram editorial that chided Vice Mayor Colonna for having switched off a speaker's microphone a week earlier, but Mr. Shannon said:
"Let's make something clear. The [PT] editorial had absolutely no effect on my particular opinion. I could care less what the Press-Telegram thinks on the issue."
The Council then settled in for about half an hour of high octane polemics. Some excerpts:
"The 1991 slaughter [Gulf War to remove Iraq from Kuwait] also targeted Iraq's civilian infrastructure and that bombardment combined with 12 years of inhumane sanctions have left one and half million Iraq civilians dead, many of them children under five..."
"...We support our troops, and the best way of supporting our troops is to bring them back here. We don't need to go to a war for oil..."
"...I haven't heard anything but lies from President Bush..."
After the first person spoke, Vice Mayor Colonna offered his view, "It's regrettable that the speaker didn't reflect on the 3,000 innocent lives that were lost on September 11th." His opinion prompted audible displeasure from some people in the audience.
Some speakers referred to an alternative resolution that would put City Hall on record opposing a war with Iraq, passed by some other U.S. cities...and indicated they want LB's City Council to do likewise.
When the speakers concluded, Mayor O'Neill (who, along with City Attorney Shannon, had not been present at the Jan. 21 meeting) and Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga and thanked City Attorney Shannon for his ruling.
The Council voted to adopt the Colonna-Carroll initiated resolution 9-0.
At the end of the Council meeting, Vice Mayor Colonna added a gracious exit:
"I just wanted to comment briefly about what we spoke on earlier, not to rehash it, but just to make my position that freedom, democracy and free speech are the cornerstones of our democracy, and actually a nod of thanks to Bob Shannon who took a little bit of flak there in clarifying our Brown Act and the agenda items, because I think it's important that people do have a right to express their opinions, and that'll be a heads-up in the future in terms of our Council meetings."
Text of January 28, 2003 Council resolution
A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LONG BEACH IN SUPPORT OF MEMBERS OF
THE UNITED STATES MILITARY RESERVES AND CALIFORNIA NATIONAL GUARD
WHEREAS, numerous employees and citizens of the City of Long Beach
serve as members of the United States military reserves and California National Guard
in addition to their civilian jobs; and
WHEREAS, many of these employees and citizens have been, or will be,
called to active duty; and
WHEREAS, such service may cause hardship for these members of the
military and their families; and
WHEREAS, the risks inherent in such service has been shown by the
wounding of Long Beach police officer Christopher Martin while serving with the United
States armed forces in Afghanistan;
NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Long Beach resolves
Section 1. The City Council hereby declares its support for its citizens
and employees in the United States military reserves and the California National Guard
who have been, or will be, called to active duty, and offers support and encouragement
to their families...