Residents attending City Council meetings can now be inappropriate. But forget about being disruptive.
New conduct rules remove the 10-year-old prohibition against “inappropriate conduct.” The change, approved by the council last week, was prompted by a complaint from a resident who thought the previous code was stifling.
Mark P. Petracca, a frequent critic of the new, conservative council majority elected in June, had said that the old rules of conduct could violate state and federal laws guaranteeing free speech by prohibiting criticism of council members during meetings.
The rules of conduct are part of a “blue sheet” of information outlining how the council conducts its business, how to arrange to address the council in person, and what conduct is allowed. The blue sheets are stacked at entrances to the council chamber.
After Petracca complained about the rules, City Atty. John L. Fellows studied the issue and agreed that the mayor would have no legal grounds to end the tirade of a public speaker by ruling the behavior “inappropriate.” Instead, Fellows’ report stated, conduct would have to disrupt the meeting before the mayor could silence or eject a speaker.
Petracca, an assistant professor of political science at UC Irvine, said he was generally happy with the changes to the blue sheet. He disliked the former rules of conduct, he said, because he feared Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan would use them to silence criticism of council members.