Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser wants the Town Council to revisit its policy outlining conduct during public meetings, as he believes the policy as currently written discourages free speech.
Fraser introduced the item during the council’s Feb. 14 meeting.
Although it something he worked on during his first year as mayor, he said he “sees a lot of issues from the council’s perspective” regarding it.
The policy was adopted in October 2013, and revised in March 2015. It outlines how the public is expected to conduct itself at any town government meetings, including Town Council, commission and committee meetings. Seventeen behaviors are identified as unacceptable during these public meetings, including interrupting speakers; use of profanity or vulgar language; making non-germane or frivolous statements; and campaigning for public office, to name a few.
It appeared Fraser had the support of a majority of council members on an overhaul to the policy, with several offering their own suggestions for revisions. There also exists the possibility of repealing it altogether.
Councilman Ryan Cool has been charged with compiling council members’ suggestions. The item is expected to be back up for discussion at the council’s Feb. 28 meeting.
TOWN OF PURCELLVILLE PUBLIC MEETING CONDUCT
Original Effective Date: October 1, 2013 Revised and Adopted: March 10, 2015
The efficient and dignified conduct of public business is the ultimate concern of the Town Council. Accordingly, the Council wishes to preserve an environment that is safe and conducive to effectively representing and pursuing the public interest. Every resident, business‐owner and visitor has a right to access Town public meetings and to experience these meetings in a friendly, courteous, safe and business‐like environment. Unfortunately, from time to time, individuals may act in a manner that is disruptive to the meeting environment which precludes the Town’s ability to maintain order and decorum.
The purpose of this policy is to define and establish boundaries associated with disruptive behavior that adversely impacts the Town Council’s ability to conduct public business as well as obstructing and/or interfering with the audience’s ability to hear the business being conducted and outline a procedure to ensure civility, courtesy and respect remain at all times.
Rules of Demeanor
These rules shall apply to all persons attending any public Town meeting, to include but are not limited to Town Council meetings and meetings of the Town’s Committees, Commissions and Boards. Behavior that is specifically defined as unacceptable includes:
- 1) Conduct in violation of any ordinance, state or federal law;
- 2) Any person who makes personal, impertinent or slanderous remarks, or who becomes boisterous while addressing the Council shall be ruled out of order and be asked to leave the meeting;
- 3) Interruption of speakers, name calling or boisterous remarks;
- 4) Acting or behaving in such an unreasonable manner so as to alarm, disturb or intimidate others and to provoke breach of peace;
- 5) Any act designed to intimidate, threaten or harm persons or destroy property;
6) Interruption of speakers or engaging in behavior that disrupts the meeting including but not limited to applause, cheers, jeers, etc.;
- 7) Use of profanity, vulgar language or gestures;
- 8) Use of language which insults or demeans any person or which, when directed at a public official or employee is not related to his or her official duties, however, citizens have the right to comment on the performance, conduct, and qualifications of public figures;
- 9) Making non‐germane or frivolous statements;
10) Marketing, promoting or soliciting business which interferes with the operation and conduct of the meeting and the citizens attending and participating;
11) Campaigning for public office;
12) Discussion of a sectarian or partisan nature;
13) Members of the audience shall not engage in audible conversations or which interrupts and prohibits individuals from hearing and/or participating in a public meeting, or disrupts the conduct of business by the public body;
14) Standing in the back or side isles of the Council Room as long as there are sufficient seats available (law enforcement personnel excluded);
15) The public may enter and leave the meeting room at any time, provided such entrance or exit is made quietly and in an orderly fashion and not disruptive of the business being conducted;
16) Although the operation of personal recording equipment is allowed at a public meeting, the operation and placement thereof shall not disturb the meeting.
17) Address the Council on issues that do not concern the services, policies or affairs of the Town.
The public body is empowered to cause the removal of any and all persons violating the provisions of its rules and include a procedure for implementing said removal of said individual(s).The presiding officer shall preserve order and decorum at Council meetings. He or she may order the expulsion of any person, for violation of these rules, disruptive behavior, or any words or action which incites violence or disorder, subject to appeal to the Council. The presiding officer shall instruct the person(s) to immediately leave the meeting and grounds of the public facility. Should they refuse to comply or do not remove themselves in a timely manner, the Chief of Police or designated Sergeant‐At‐Arms shall be authorized to remove the individual(s). Any person so expelled shall not be readmitted for the remainder of the meeting from which expelled. Any person who has been so expelled and who at a later meeting again engages in behavior justifying expulsion may also be barred from attendance at future Council meetings for a specified and reasonable period of time not to exceed six months, or upon a still subsequent expulsion a period not to exceed one year either by the presiding officer, subject to appeal to the Council, or by motion passed by the Council.
Public Meeting Conduct Policy
Adopted March 10, 2015