Tallahassee’s Office of the Inspector General recently released a report recommending the Tallahassee City Commission take action to establish standards of decorum for city public meetings.
In addition, the report recommended that the policy include enforcement protocols.
The report detailed a “Building Security” audit which noted disruptive and sometimes violent incidents at local government public meetings and events which have recently occurred with greater frequency around the country.
The report included a few examples of such incidents, one in New York City where a group of citizens repeatedly shouted their opposition to new vaccine mandates at a city commission meeting. Another interruption during a city meeting in Huntsville, Alabama, resulted in one person’s arrest after refusing to comply with law enforcement’s orders.
The Inspector General’s report further explains that the City of Tallahassee does not have a current policy to provide guidance for enforcement of standards of conduct.
In recent years, many municipalities have chosen to develop policies to deal with unruly civilians who wish to have their voices heard.
In 2019 Tampa created a new policy that bars personal attacks against city officials or other members of the public. According to an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Commissioner Harry Cohen commented on the changes. “We want to keep it respectful and businesslike. It should be a professional environment,” Cohen said.
Other examples of cities that have implemented these policies are the City of West Palm Beach, Miami City, and the City of Port St. Lucie. All the policies prohibit profanity and aggressive or threatening behavior and allow the presiding official to remove the persons from the room if necessary.
The recommendations call for amending City Commission Policy #108, which includes a “Pledge of Civility for public speakers that asks for attendees to be respectful, direct comments to issues, avoid personal attacks,” or develop a new code of conduct.
The report identifies examples of behaviors and activities that are generally considered disruptive and should be included in the policy. These examples include:
- Heckling, verbal outbursts or other interruptions.
- Shouting, yelling, screaming, threats, or other forms of verbal abuse.
- Noisemakers, air horns, whistles, or similar noise-making items.
- Signs, placards, banners, or objects that impede the visual rights of others.
- Approaching the dais to distribute materials to board members rather than providing these items to the recording secretary for orderly distribution and consideration.
- Refusal to relinquish the podium or microphone, or impeding the next speaker’s ability to provide public comments.
- Ringing cell phones or people speaking on cell phones in public meetings.