Some members of the Los Angeles City Council moved Friday to crack down on individuals frequently kicked out of meetings for being disruptive by introducing a motion that would ban them from attending a certain number future of meetings depending on the frequency of their ejections.
A handful of people are routinely ejected from council meetings or committee meetings for violating rules, including yelling out or being disruptive when it is not their turn to speak. It is not uncommon for them to be ejected from multiple meetings in one day.
The motion appears to be related to a lengthy discussion some members of the City Council had on Wednesday, after two men who are routinely ejected from the meetings were again kicked out.
Both of them are known to often use racial epithets and vulgar language when addressing the council, although their ejections are typically related to them yelling out when it is not their turn, making noises in the audience or waving their arms when others are speaking.
“To the mom sitting in the front row, I know that you did not appreciate, nor did your child, what you just heard,” Council President Herb Wesson told a mother who attended Wednesday’s meeting with her child, after a man was kicked out following a yelling tirade where he used racist language and numerous vulgar words.
The council’s current rules allow for someone to be kicked out for being disruptive, but only from that specific meeting.
The motion introduced by Council President Herb Wesson, Councilman Gil Cedillo and Councilwoman Nury Martinez, and seconded by three others, would bar anyone ejected from a council or committee meeting from attending any more the rest of the day.
If the person is removed from another meeting within three business days, he or she would be barred from attending any more meetings for three business days. If they disrupt another meeting within the next three business days after they are allowed to return, they would be barred from meetings on the next six business days.
The motion is the latest development in an ongoing conflict the council has had with public speakers who push the boundaries of decorum. The conflicts often lead to bizarre interactions in which a council member in the middle of a serious conversation about city issues must pause to admonish a member of the audience to stop playing with a puppet, making animal noises or waving their hands in the air.
In previous discussions during City Council sessions, members have worried about how to handle disruptions while adhering to open meeting laws. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, said that any legal advice given to the City Council when it comes to barring people from meetings was confidential.
Rick Coca, a spokesman for City Councilman Jose Huizar, also said any questions about the legal guidance the council has received could not be disclosed. Huizar seconded the motion, and also at some recent meetings has said that he would like the City Council and City Attorney’s Office to address the issue of the frequent disruptions.
“The overall point is, we are sensitive to people’s First Amendment rights, and freedom of speech, but this is not about that,” Coca told City News Service. “Everybody has a right to say what they want to say. This is about creating chaos at a governmental body meeting, and it is affecting our ability to do the business of the people.”
A man in 2014 received a $215,000 legal settlement with the city after being ejected from a meeting for wearing a KKK hood. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell in 2016 secured a temporary a restraining order against the man, but a judge declined to issue a permanent restraining order.
A San Fernando Valley-based lawyer who is a frequent presence at City Hall was arrested in 2016 after he submitted a comment card with Ku Klux Klan imagery and a racial slur on it that Wesson said he took as a threat, although the district attorney declined to charge him. The attorney later filed a federal lawsuit against the city over the incident.
Even though Wesson received a restraining order against the attorney, he was still allowed to attend public meetings when Wesson was present.
Another frequent guest speaker often ejected from meetings brought a box cutter to a Public Safety Committee hearing in 2016, although he was not arrested when police discovered it. He was ejected after he refused to stop dancing in the aisles while holding a doll adorned in a KKK outfit.
Both of those men were most recently ejected from the Wednesday meeting after Wesson said they were being disruptive. After they had been removed, numerous council members spoke up about their concerns regarding the pair and the issues that their ejections cause.
Some members said the men have started to enter council offices and refuse to leave, or stand on the sidewalk outside of the parking lot at City Hall and yell at people as they pull out.
O’Farrell said that not only might the mother and child in the front row have been offended, “they might have felt threatened by the hostility, the overt hostility, the racist language. It goes beyond feeling offended and being disrespected. It’s hostility and its absolutely threatening to a minor.”
Wesson said “we are restricted in what we can or cannot do,” but later added that “we’re going to be figuring out a policy that we can discuss as to how we’re going to deal with that.”