9OYS Continuing Coverage
Tucson City Council, citizens weigh in on free speech at meetings
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - All sides weigh in as the Tucson City Council takes up the rights of citizens who speak their minds at weekly meetings. Last week, a man was kicked out for doing just that while causing a commotion. Tuesday afternoon, members of the council and the public talked about what form freedom of speech should take at meetings.
With growing concerns about what happened at last week's meeting, Councilman Steve Kozachik suggested Tuesday afternoon that something needs to change.
“My concern was that we were implementing a rule that struck me as being potentially overly broad,” he told the council, mayor and city staff.
Kozachik suggested the city's rules for public participation be more specific, offering the idea of a warning to speakers who start to cross the line.
“I think the reason that warning is important is because it gives the person speaking an opportunity to correct his or her behavior,” he said.
The discussion set off a fury of questions and concerns about what is and is not allowed, according to current city rules.
“If I don't want to stay in, if I don't want to listen to somebody, do I have to still sit there?” said Councilman Paul Cunningham. “Can I read the paper?”
“One of the things I'm a little worried about is: I might not have adequately explained the rules in advance of last week's call of the audience,” Mayor Bob Walkup said.
Addressing the mayor's concern, the council agreed to read the rules before every public comment session. The city attorney did that Tuesday night.
9 On Your Side was there, as citizens took that comment time to share their concerns.
“The policy of letting people speak without having the city attorney read them any rules has worked very well for decades,” said citizen and former state legislator John Kromko during the session. “You can't let one incident be used to clamp down on the rights of all the rest of the people.”
Then, it was the turn of the activist escorted out by police just a week ago: Roy Warden. He spent his three minutes finishing his statement from the week before, but his tone was noticeably subdued.
“How can you justify your employment of Mr. Miranda when citizens of this community rendered such a verdict?” Warden said, referring to a 2006 lawsuit he wished to bring to the attention of the council. “I'll be back next week.”
The mayor fired back immediately. “I must warn you: that is precisely what the rules prohibit--repetitive personal assaults. I want you to recognize that,” he said. “I'm giving you a fair warning that I consider that to be a violation of our rules. Everybody got a bite tonight, but next week I would like you to stick to our rules.”
The council asked the city attorney to look at the rules other Arizona cities have on public participation. He's supposed to report back in a few weeks.