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Fullerton Council Told to Clean Up Its Meetings

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nasty personal attacks. Mean-spirited jokes. Even physical assaults. Is this any way to run a City Council meeting? The head of the Orange County Parliamentarians doesn’t think so.

Robert Johnson, president of the local chapter of the National Institute of Parliamentarians, an organization that promotes education and use of parliamentary procedure, says the boorish behavior is giving the city a black eye, and he wants it to stop.

At one recent meeting, a resident flung a campaign sign at Councilwoman Julie Sa, hitting her in the face. At several meetings last year, other residents demanded to know whether Sa is a U.S. citizen and mocked her speech in an effort to ridicule her. Other meetings have been peppered with exchanges of profanity and name-calling--by both the public and the council.

“There is a simple remedy for this whole problem,” Johnson said after appearing at Tuesday’s council meeting to denounce the poor conduct and suggest ways the panel can improve. “Under parliamentary rules, the presiding officer can control the decorum and ensure a much more efficient meeting with less rancor.”

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Council members agreed that decorum is sorely needed and have invited Johnson to teach officials, including city commissioners and committee members, about parliamentary procedure.

Mayor Chris Norby, however, expressed concerns that any changes might inhibit free speech in the city.

Norby often casts the lone dissenting vote on numerous decisions and regularly reminds people that they may address the council at any time on any matter during public meetings, which typically last six to eight hours. He said he follows “the rules of logic” as the presiding officer of council meetings.

Council members, often the targets of harsh criticism, blamed most of the bad behavior on residents.

Councilwoman Jan M. Flory recently told a gadfly that she did not get paid enough to put up with his “bull----.”

Residents, in turn, see the council as the problem.

Chris Beard remarked at Tuesday’s meeting, “Our City Council has been taking a beating lately, and I would like to paraphrase from another more famous beating victim. Can we all get along now? Can we all just get along now?”

“There seems to be a lot of infighting that just doesn’t make a lot of sense, that takes a lot of time, and doesn’t do much but create animosity toward the citizens of our community,” he added.

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City officials said they now will consider reviewing the parliamentary matter at a future meeting.


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