Dear Dinosaur: During public comment at a virtual meeting, one citizen was making blasphemous comments about another citizen in attendance, was escalating in emotion, and calling him names and added a few cuss words. Then he pulls out pictures and past memos, etc. I’m clear about allowing the citizen his freedom of speech. He can rant and rave all he wants on any topic, but when it gets personal, do we have the right or obligation to ask the ranting citizen to calm down and speak respectfully? If ignored, can we mute the citizen until he can calm down, and if not, eject from the meeting?
Answer: The courts have found that local government bodies may regulate the time, place, and manner of public comment sessions during their meetings, as long as the regulations are viewpoint-neutral. It is reasonable for a council to require that comment be relevant to the work of the body. Such a policy should be in writing and should be clearly stated before the comment session begins.
In my view, making personal attacks on an individual is not relevant to the body’s work. If that happens and the citizen doesn’t stop on request, you have the right to mute the citizen. Most online platforms make this easy to accomplish. If you can’t mute them, your attorney can advise whether you have the right to eject the citizen from the meeting. As always, nothing in this answer constitutes legal advice.
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Dear Dinosaur provides simple, practical answers to questions about Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure. Send your questions to Dear Dinosaur here. Our answers are based on Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 12th edition. As always, nothing in this post constitutes legal or business advice. For specific questions, seek a qualified authority.