Council approves revised citizen’s time policy

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On Monday, the Franklin City Council approved the revised citizen’s time policy that City Attorney Taylor Williams drew up after meeting in closed session earlier this month. This was done to decide if the current policy was in violation of the First Amendment.

“Citizen’s time is open to the public. All meetings are open to the public,” Williams said. “I have tried to give a little perspective [in the revised policy] of what citizen’s time is.

“It is a limited forum … not a traditional forum. All of your first amendment rights exist in a traditional forum. In the limited forum that is created by council, you do not have all the First Amendment rights that you think of in a traditional forum. The main thing is is that the council can set the stage as to what rules will be followed for purposes of conducting citizen’s time.”

The revised policy states that persons can address council about matters involving the business of the City.

“A speaker should not use profanity or vulgar language, make gestures to offend or insult any other person(s), make political speeches, make remarks tending to promote private business ventures, make remarks from the audience or use any signs or placards in support of or in opposition to an issue or person,” the rules go on to say. “Any person’s speech that is an insult directed at a person and not speech directed at substantive ideas or procedures or issues at hand, reasonably perceived by the presiding officer to be irrelevant to City business, or may result in the potential disruption of the orderly conduct of the meeting by its very tone and manner, will be declared out of order by the presiding officer and the speaker will be directed to yield the floor and take a seat. If the speaker does not comply and causes a disruption in the orderly conduct of the business on the agenda, he may be removed by a police officer at the request of the presiding officer.”

Councilman Greg McLemore questioned the revised policy, as he believes that council was still being too harsh on the rules.

“It sounds like to me we are structuring once again on the side of what we have the legal right to do oppose to what the spirit of the law is about — giving the citizens the opportunity to come down and exchange with their elected officials,” McLemore said.

Williams responded with saying, “What I have done is crafted language that has come out of case law, that I would be happy to present to anybody, that constitutionally says what we are doing is permissible… what I have suggested, it is supported by case law and statutes in the Virginia Code and this is what I recommend.”

Councilman Frank Rabil voiced his opinion.

“I don’t think this in any way implies that citizens who are upset with us and the way we do quote unquote, ‘business of the city,’ can’t come up here and lodge a complaint. I think what we’re saying here is they can’t come up and make personal attacks using improper language and those things,” he said. “As long as one conducts themselves in an orderly, and I guess controlled manner, we could and we should listen to the citizens. I think we should listen to the citizens. If we are doing something wrong or they don’t agree with they have the right to come up here and tell us that. I don’t see a thing wrong with that.”

Councilman Benny Burgess then reiterated what council is doing with the revised policy.

“We are not saying you can’t come and speak about personnel or anything … you can speak on anything,” Burgess continued. “It’s the control and attitude that you come with that makes the difference as whether you are going to be able to continue to speak. Adding civility to the conversation.”

Council then made a motion to accept the revised policy and, all members were in favor.