The City Council agreed Tuesday to rewrite the rules for the weekly public call to the audience despite contending there's nothing wrong with their current policies that attempt to restrict what people can say.
Mayor Bob Walkup announced at the meeting a week ago that he was imposing new restrictions on what speakers can say at meetings, allowing him to prohibit criticism of the council and the city staff in the name of civility.
One speaker, anti-illegal-immigrant activist Roy Warden, was cut off from speaking and ejected from the meeting after making a reference to interim City Manager Richard Miranda.
This week, Councilman Steve Kozachik asked the council to rewrite the rules after the "unprecedented move" of shutting down speech last week.
He said the wording of the city's rule, which prohibits "personal, impertinent or slanderous remarks" or "boisterous" behavior, is too broad. Two First Amendment lawyers interviewed by the Arizona Daily Star last week had similar opinions.
Kozachik wanted new rules that mandate a speaker be warned before being cut off, and wanted to change the language to be less broad. "Speech rights come with a cost," he said.
He wanted to change the language so that speakers who make "statements which disrupt, disturb or otherwise impede the orderly conduct of the council meeting, including comments that are repetitive in nature, or whose speech reflects a clear and present danger, is obscene, libelous, slanderous or poses an imminent true threat" may be removed from the meeting.
City Attorney Mike Rankin said he would take Kozachik's language into consideration when he drafted the new rules, along with the rules and best practices from other cities and towns in Arizona.
He defended the city's rules, saying they were consistent with the rules of other Arizona cities and that they have been in place since 1982.
"What we can't do and won't do and haven't done is restrict speech based on viewpoint," Rankin said, adding that all the council has done has properly restricted the time, place and manner of speech. "What we have currently is well within the fold."
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said she was "reticent to impose restrictions" on speech, but she said the council shouldn't have to put up with threats of violence or disruption. She said civility is a "core value" of Tucson, and that other attendees at the call to the audience shouldn't have to be "subjected to behavior or verbiage that is out of bounds."
Although she is a supporter of the First Amendment, Councilwoman Regina Romero said the council needs to provide a space for citizens where speakers follow rules of propriety and decorum. She said there are rules for behavior in front of children, in schools and even while sitting in traffic, so there are also rules for behavior in council meetings.
"We need to be able to provide a place that people feel safe," she said.
Walkup said he wants to start giving people warnings before cutting them off, give clearer rules for behaviors, and spell out on the speaker request forms more clearly what behavior is or isn't allowed.
The rules need some review and adjustment, Walkup said.
Warden, who touched off the controversy when he was cut off last week, spoke at Tuesday's call to the audience and continued his speech from the week before where he talked about Miranda and a lawsuit that he was involved in that the city lost.
Walkup let him speak, but after he finished, Walkup told him not to come next week and say the same thing because the city rules do not allow repetitive speech week to week. He warned Warden that he would be cut off if he said the same thing next week.
The city's rules do not prevent repetitive speech, however, and after first insisting they did, Walkup later relented after speaking with Rankin.
Rankin said Warden would be allowed to come back and make the same comments, at least until the city finalizes its rule changes.
Walkup insisted his intervention last week raised the civility of the call to the audience. "The demeanor was decidedly better," he said.
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Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org