There were no public comments Tuesday night at the Angels Camp City Council meeting, but if there were, could they be repetitious, slanderous or irrelevant?
That was the discussion among council members and City Attorney Derek Cole.
Cole, who works for a Roseville-based law firm, was previously asked to review and provide a legal opinion on the city’s guidelines on conducting “open and orderly” public meetings.
“Generally, I think these are good,” he told the council of the guidelines, which were adopted in 2005. “I think they’re legally accurate.”
There was one guideline, however, that did concern him: “No repetitious, slanderous or irrelevant remarks, or other disorderly conduct.”
“This limitation initially gave our office concern,” Cole wrote in a report to council members. “Prohibiting certain speech based on its content is generally considered unconstitutional.”
The catalyst for reviewing the guidelines stemmed from a meeting earlier this year in which some speakers who “opposed the way the city was handling a special assessment” in Greenhorn Creek “expressed themselves in an angry manner,” Cole said after the meeting.
Cole was asked by city officials during the summer to review the city’s meeting policies.
“An issue with the city’s rule is the potential for misuse and impermissible application,” Cole wrote to the council. “It is important to note that a person cannot be prohibited from using repetitious, slanderous or irrelevant remarks unless it actually disrupts or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of the meeting.
“In many cases, what may appear to be offensive speech may simply be a person’s way of expressing himself or herself. Indeed, the expression of anger, the use of epithets, and even the use of curse words can, in themselves, convey messages in ways that cannot be conveyed through calm or polite methods of expression.”
Vice Mayor Jack Lynch agreed the council should change the wording of the guideline.
“The council has to be able to listen to criticism — that’s required,” he said.
Cole said he will “tighten up the language” of the guideline to “recognize that criticism of public officials is acceptable” before bringing the item back to the council at a future meeting.