“Speaker Cards” to shut you up
APRIL 12 : Speaker Cards – how the City Council plans to shut you up ! .
3/28/11 – With the next round of utility rate increases on the horizon, here is how the City Council wants to brace itself against the upcoming public outrage: Speaker cards. They are tentatively on the agenda for April 12, (please check back here 72 hrs prior to confirm agenda). The card system is presumably designed to allow Mayor Barbara Hanna to chose who speaks and when. The proposed cards give the Mayor the power to curb critical speech and suppress dissent. If you don’t like this idea, speak up on April 12. It may be your last chance to do so.
HOW DO SPEAKER CARDS WORK ?
The way the cards usually work is that participants have to fill them out before a public session in order to invoke their right to speak at that meeting. Making things even more complicated, the speaker must also indicate the agenda item he or she wants to speak to. Anyone who does not fill out the speaker card waives his or her right to speak.
THE ISSUE WAS SHELVED IN 2009
Most of us will remember that about 2 years ago the Liberty Energy sludge incinerator was given serious consideration by the council. At the time, speakers would come up at practically every City Council session and criticize the project. The Council eventually got tired of the constant criticism and wanted to take control of the situation. Rather than abandon the Liberty Energy proposal, they proposed speaker cards. On the initiative of Bob Botts and his always reliable sidekick Don Robinson, the issue of speaker cards appeared on the agenda for April 28, 2009 .
Listen to this 2009 clip as Bob Botts explains how the speaker cards will work :
During the same 2009 session , then-council-member Barbara Hanna was a critical voice on the issue. To her credit, Hanna vehemently opposed the cards, appropriately calling them “stifling”.
Please listen to Hanna’s 2009 comments :
IS HANNA NOW GETTING READY TO “FLIP-FLOP” ON THE ISSUE ?
The fact that the cards have made it back on the agenda, now that Barbara Hanna is Mayor, is more than troublesome. It indicates that Hanna might be ready to “flip-flop” on the issue. After all, agenda items do not appear by coincidence. We all know that Hanna is an opportunist – meaning she is not guided by fundamental principles. But let’s reserve judgment until we hear what she has to say on April 12.
Speaker cards are nothing new : they are in use in many jurisdictions. But just because other public agencies use them, does that make them legal ? The issue of speaker cards has never been challenged in court. There is much discussion about them, and there are indications that they may be unconstitutional.
The spirit of the Brown Act is to encourage political discourse, not suppress it. There is no provision in the Brown Act that mandates speakers to identify themselves.
While there is no case on point, the US Supreme Court has found that anyone exercising their First Amendment right to free speech is NOT required to identify themselves.
See, e.g., Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of N.Y., Inc. v. Village of Stratton, 536 U.S. 150 (2002) (ordinance requiring those intending to engage in door-to-door advocacy of a political or religious cause to obtain and, upon demand, display permit, which contained one’s name, violated First Amendment protection accorded to anonymous pamphleteering or discourse);, 323 U.S. 516, 539 (1945) (“As a matter of principle a requirement of registration in order to make a public speech would seem generally incompatible with an exercise of the rights of free speech and free assembly”).
Both Supreme Court decisions are a strong indication that the Council cannot deny someone the right to speak based on that person not filling out a speaker card. For a more in-depth discussion of the issue we recommend this essay by the First Amendment Coalition
We believe there is no need for speaker cards in the City of Banning. In our opinion the Council is planning to raise utility rates again or maybe take on other unpopular measures. In light of this plan, they are afraid of public outrage and want to implement a system beforehand that can be used to shut up the public at will.
ATTEND THE APRIL 12 CITY COUNCIL MEETING . MAKE SURE YOU PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO SPEAK !