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$5 Fine Repeal Aftermath

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As a result of the demonstrations over the Republican repeal of the $5 weed law, Mayor Stephenson has proposed new rules for conduct in council chambers.

The first change adds this sentence to an existing rule: "No member of Council shall use profane or obscene language during any council meeting."

The purpose behind this is to stop the occasional "hell's," "damn's," "shit's" and "motherfucker's" which Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck use to keep the Council's language in line with how people normally talk.

The other significant change is far heavier. Stephenson would have the Council add a new Rule 43 which reads as follows:

Conduct of Audience

Members of the audience shall sit in the permanent seats provided in the Council chamber and shall refrain from participating in Council proceedings in any way including speaking, clapping, cheering, booing, hissing, or in making noise of any kind except during the designated portions of Council Agendas providing for audience participation. Under no circumstances shall a member of the audience who has not been recognized to speak to Council be present in the Council chamber in any position other than a position seated in a permanent seat. Members of the audience may stand in the hall outside the Council chamber but may not stand in the Council chamber.

Taken literally, this rule forbids:

  • Standing for the invocation and pledge of allegiance.
  • Entering the Council chamber with the purpose of going to a permanent seat.
  • Leaving the Council chamber to go to the bathroom. Giving materials to a councilperson.
  • Whispering to a councilperson.
  • Whispering to an audience member next to you while both are seated in permanent seats.
  • Getting agendas from the podium.

Apparently Stephenson would like people to sit absolutely still and silent. Fat chance. It's even more intriguing to try to figure out what happens to someone who supposedly violates this rule. Is that person ejected from the Council chambers? Or is he or she held in "contempt of City Council"? Do you get a trial? What about your right to a lawyer? Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam.

Stephenson may rule into even more legal troubles when and if he tries to enforce this rule. A court recently ruled that people could not be arrested for standing in protest at a City Council meeting because they had a constitutionally protected right to stand.

Do the Republicans really want the spectacle of dozens of people being carried out of the Council chambers because they are standing? The proposed rules have been sent to the Council's Rules Committee. Perhaps the Republicans will have second thoughts. But don't count on it.

-David Cahill