Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has decreed, effective July 9, that people who violate “rules of decorum” may be banned from City Board meetings.
The decree followed blogger Russ Racop’s cursing of the mayor during the citizen communications period at a recent city Board meeting.
Rachel Herzog reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that people who use “profanity or personal attacks” may be barred from meetings for up to three months.
“I think we’re all aware of how decorum was abused last week,” Scott said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
If an individual violates the rules of decorum after being barred once, he can be banned for up to a year, and not only from city Board of Directors meetings but also from any city meeting where public comments are accepted.
While commenting on Scott’s expenditures as mayor — and being challenged by the mayor in the process — Racop described one act of the mayor as “shitty” and closed his remarks by telling the mayor, “fuck you.” He walked out of the room as the mayor was ordering that he be removed.
I don’t condone cursing at City Board meeting. But …. The 1st Amendment gives broad protection to speech before public bodies. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently agreed, for example, that an Arkansas cop couldn’t arrest someone who shot him the finger.
There’s a more slippery slope here than curse words, that part about “verbal attacks.” Is criticism of public official spending a “verbal attack”?
City Hall has a poor record for enduring gadflies like Luke Skrable and now Russ Racop, though they indisputably can be pains in the neck. I can’t help but wonder if the mayor’s recent encounter with Racop might have ended differently if he’d suffered Racop’s three minutes of allotted speaking time in silence and moved on.
Removal from all city meetings for a year for uttering words that don’t meet the mayor’s definition of “decorum”? Are there seven such words? Or more than seven? What would James Madison say?
The well-behaved and attractive are rarely at the center of important cases about constitutional rights. Think Skokie.