Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lathrop mayor not so hot on criticism

Lathrop, CA -- Mayor Sayles threw G.R. out of the Lathrop City Council meeting last night.

(I wasn't at the meeting -- photos are from my file of "pictures of officials scowling at someone at meetings")

G.R. evidently didn't like that some guy who was trying to sell his "development" to the city was allowed to ramble on for about 20 minutes. Normally comments (from everyone) are limited to three or five minutes depending on if it's an agenda item or not.

G.R. asked to speak and then accused the council of giving favor to "the developer" and suggested that maybe it was because "developers" had contributed in a big way to Mayor Sayles' campaign. The mayor declared/ruled/decreed that wasn't the kind of thing anyone should be allowed to say and not only told her to cease but also had law enforcement remove her from the meeting! (I don't know if she yelled "Seize her!" or not)

According to press reports and public election records, firms that build home and office buildings (or "developers") had given money to the mayor's campaign (and "developers" have given money to nearly every elected official.) The part that apparently didn't sit well with Her Honor was the suggestion / opinion / criticism that these campaign contributions somehow shaded her fairness or objectivity. A mere plebe dares utter such words? Silence!!

Under California open meeting law any person is permitted to criticize public officials. Even in public. The Lathrop City Council has a "no personal attacks" rule printed on the "request to speak form," as do a lot of these councils and school boards. As for when and how the council adopted this rule and how they interpret it is a bit of a mystery. There are a few court cases interpreting this law too, and they make it pretty clear that just because something may be "not what the official likes to hear" that doesn't make it a "personal attack."

Those cases are here: Baca v. Moreno Valley Unified School Dist., 936 F. Supp. 719 (C.D. Cal. 1996); and Leventhal v. Vista Unified School Dist., 973 F. Supp. 951 (S.D. Cal. 1997).