Certain behavior can be legal, yet also be uncouth. That is the conundrum that the Santa Ana City Council is struggling with.
Chris Prevatt, a Long Beach resident and employee of the Orange County Health Department, a public agency, has criticized Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez for stopping Al Castillo, a supporter of mayoral candidate Alfredo Amezcua, at the last Santa Ana City Council meeting.
Prevatt previously criticized Alvarez for stopping Minuteman Lupe Moreno, who also is a gay basher, from, like Castillo, personally attacking City Council members, by name.
I looked at the Brown Act and sure enough, it seems that Castillo and Moreno have a right to misbehave during public commments. Here is the law in question:
54954.3. (a) Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, provided that no action shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda unless the action is otherwise authorized by subdivision (b) of Section 54954.2. However, the agenda need not provide an opportunity for members of the public to address the legislative body on any item that has already been considered by a committee, composed exclusively of members of the legislative body, at a public meeting wherein all interested members of the public were afforded the opportunity to address the committee on the item, before or during the committee’s consideration of the item, unless the item has
been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as determined by the legislative body. Every notice for a special meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body concerning any item that has been described in the notice for the meeting before or during consideration of that item.
(b) The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker. (c) The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body. Nothing in this subdivision shall confer any privilege or protection for expression beyond that otherwise provided by law.
So yes, these folks can disrupt the meeting during their comments, with personal attacks. But is that a good thing?
Castillo also disrupted a meeting recently by standing up, while in the audience, and trying to shout out over the Council Members. (See the picture atop this post). That is illegal and he should have been arrested.
I can understand why Alvarez and company dislike getting ripped, but in this instance the legal precedent is clear. That said, the broader question is should our residents engage in such behavior? Does it really move the agenda? Or is it just a waste of our time?
Hardly anyone goes to the meetings. They are streamed online and televised on cable, but are not provided in an online archive. You have to rent DVDs with meetings recorded on them, at the Main Library.
Castillo is not the only Amezcua supporter acting like a thug. I am disappointed by their behavior, in general. I have been attacked by several of them even though I am officially neutral and am not supporting anyone for Mayor, yet.
That said, free speech laws are pretty specific. These people are embarrassing but they have a right to spout off during public comments. The rest of us may continue to ignore them, as is our right.