Public commenters silenced at Cleveland City Council meeting on questionable grounds
An exasperated Blaine Griffin twice cut off the microphone of public commenters at Monday evening's Cleveland City Council meeting.
What happened: Griffin, the body's president, explained his interpretation of the public commenting rules after the evening's first commenter called for the recall of Mayor Justin Bibb, county prosecutor Mike O'Malley and others in a passionate tirade.
- "We will be cutting mics for anyone who insults or impugns the character of any official in this body," Griffin said.
- When a later speaker, Chris Martin, began indexing individual council members' 2022 contributions from the Council Leadership Fund, Griffin interceded.
The other side: "I am not impugning the character of any councilor," Martin said. "I am merely stating the facts of who accepted money from the Council Leadership Fund."
The final speaker testified incoherently about Christian legislation and asserted that "Judaism is actually not a religion; it's a heresy."
- Griffin then cut off her mic, as well.
The latest: On Tuesday, the council released a statement condemning those remarks.
- "Cleveland City Council supports public comment. However, we will not support any comments that demean or single out any group on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, religion, or any other reason."
Reality check: Procedures for public comment passed by the council in 2021 indicate that speakers "shall address the Council as a body and may not address any individual council member or other person."
- It also restricts the use of "indecent or discriminatory language" and says that speakers must limit themselves to topics they identify on a registration form.
Yes, but: Andy Geronimo, director of the First Amendment Clinic at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said policies at public meetings must comply with the First Amendment's prohibition against "viewpoint-based restrictions."
- "City Council would likely have a very difficult time defending the rules prohibiting mentioning members of council (and the application of those rules to particular speakers) as a matter of First Amendment law," he told Axios.
- "Accordingly, City Council would likely have a very difficult time defending the rules prohibiting offensive speech, or from mentioning members of council (and the application of those rules to particular speakers) as a matter of First Amendment law."
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