Video: Carolyn Logan Escorted from City Council Meeting after Saying Council Violated 1st Amendment rights

Posted on August 16, 2017

RFP Staff

♦ During public comments Tuesday, Carolyn Logan was physically escorted from the Salisbury City Council meeting by police when she mentioned that Council had violated her 1st Amendment rights last week. The mayor seems not only unfamiliar with recommendations of the NC League of Municipalities and the UNC School of Government (SOG) on how to preside over public input with parliamentary procedure, but she also seems to be unaware that disagreement or the desire to challenge a speaker does not validate denying a speaker’s right to speak or to attend an open meeting in accordance with North Carolina’s General Statues.

This action by the mayor was a clear violation of Carolyn Logan’s 1st Amendment right to free speech and her North Carolina right to attend an open meeting. North Carolina’s open meeting law, as in NC § 143-318.10, guarantees a person is entitled to attend and is  only to be removed under NC § 143-318.17 if she “willfully interrupts, disturbs, or disrupts”.

In light of the violations of free speech at City Council meetings on Tuesday and during the recent past, it may be wise for both City Council and the public to learn more about how the NC League of Municipalities and the UNC School of Government advises mayors and councils to fairly and legally preside during public input.  The League provides a document from the UNC School of Government (SOG), “Parliamentary Procedure for City Councils”, to guide mayors in North Carolina in the matter.

In this document, The SOG guides mayors to avoid problem areas during public input, stating that “when the council opens a period of the meeting for public comments, it has created a limited public forum and must be careful not to censor individuals or groups based on their point of view on a particular issue to avoid violating the speakers’ constitutional right to freedom of speech.” In addition, the SOG makes clear that “of paramount importance is applying the rules consistently to all speakers, and ensuring that the council members themselves refrain from interjecting comments, challenging speakers, and other behavior that may be deemed disrespectful to the public.”

Animated speaking and speech with content that displeases a member of Council does not warrant gaveling or removal. Interactions should include reasonable dialogue, which is not a practice held by Salisbury’s Council. When a citizen disapproves of what a public figure has done, it may be uncomfortable, but that does not make it a lie or a violation of the rules. When Mayor Karen Alexander goes right to the gavel and declares a person to be “out of order”, she is not following the recommended practices condoned by the UNC School of Government (SOG). The SOG recommends understanding Parliamentary Procedure for City Councils as well as being familiar with the documents “Public Comment at Meetings of Local Government Boards,” Parts One and Two, which are free to download at the UNC School of Government download site.

In Part One, the authors remind the presiding officer that  unless obscene, a speaker’s remarks “are probably constitutionally protected free speech.” Models are provided on how to properly interact with the public, which differs entirely form the format the City of Salisbury makes use of. None of the recommendations include gaveling a speaker who the presiding officer wishes to disprove and having them physically removed from the City Council meeting. None of the recommendations include a rule listening to the speaker with no comments or feedback, to be broken at will when the mayor disagrees with a speaker.

In Part Two, the authors state, “Anyone may attend and record meetings of local public bodies in North Carolina. This right of access is guaranteed by North Carolina’s open meetings law. It also may be inferred from the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

Additionally, the SOG notes that “To exclude a speaker from a traditional public forum which has as one of its purposes the free exchange of ideas because of the content of her or his speech, the government must show that a regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and . . . is narrowly drawn to achieve that end. Regulations subjected to this standard, called the strict-scrutiny test rarely survive a court challenge.”

Last, the SOG maintains that “censorship based on the speaker’s viewpoint usually is not allowed. The Supreme Court will generally hold that a regulation applicable to a traditional public forum violates the First Amendment when it denies access to a speaker solely to suppress the point of view she or he espouses.”

Related Information on NC and US Law and Civil Rights

Sec. 14. of the NC State Constitution and Declaration of Rights: Freedom of speech and press: Freedom of speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and therefore shall never be restrained, but every person shall be held responsible for their abuse.

North Carolina’s Open Meeting Law: This Chapter includes § 143-318.10, which states that except during closed sessions, “each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting.” In addition, § 143-318.17 states that removal is for those who “willfully interrupts, disturbs, or disrupts”. This chapter also includes a description of injunctive relief against violations of the Article.

Amendment I of the United States Constitution (Bill of Rights): Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Ammendment 14 of the United States Constitution, Section One: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

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