Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey got into a ridiculous showdown with a critic at a June 25 meeting over the right to applaud during public comments.
He had critic Letitia Pepper ejected after warning her not to clap between speakers and she persisted.
Under the new mayor’s rules, the audience is allowed to applaud only during ceremonial presentations, such as a Boy Scout attaining Eagle rank or an employee, 30 years of service.
But they can’t show approval or disapproval of what people say during the substantive parts of meetings, such as when the council is hearing testimony or when the public is allowed to speak on any subject.
I’m not sure the applause limit is constitutional.
I couldn’t reach Bailey for comment because he was on his way overseas. But Mayor Pro Tem Mike Gardner said, “I guess we’ll find out.”
As the June 25 meeting began, Bailey read a prepared statement laying out “rules of decorum”: Applauding is allowed — even encouraged — during official ceremonies, he said, but during the deliberative part, clapping or booing is unacceptable.
That’s wrong. Clapping or booing between speakers is a normal part of the meeting.
Council members should welcome it as a barometer of constituents’ opinions on important issues the city needs to address — like the UCR rental-house problem.
Pepper had heard about the applause ban after the June 11 council meeting. She wrote a letter to Bailey saying the First Amendment protects demonstrations of support or disapproval. She came to the June 25 meeting to call him out on it.
The first time a couple of people applauded, Bailey read this statement:
“Pursuant to California Penal Code Section 403, it is a misdemeanor to disturb the business of a lawful assembly to the point that the meeting can’t continue. You’ve been advised that your conduct is unlawful. If you continue, you’re committing a crime and you’ll be escorted from the premises or placed under arrest.”
That’s straight out of the police protocol.
After two more people spoke, Pepper clapped aggressively. Bailey issued another warning: “This is the last time I’ll warn you, then I’ll ask the officer to escort you out.”
When it was Pepper’s turn at the microphone, she laced into Bailey over the applause ban and told him people have a right to clap. She encouraged the audience to applaud, and some people did.
Bailey didn’t arrest her then. But after the next speaker, he called a recess. When the meeting resumed, he issued one more warning.
But after the very next speaker, Pepper clapped again. Bailey asked an officer to remove her. And she was escorted out.
Gardner said Bailey was justified in having Pepper removed. Her behavior was deliberately disruptive, he said, not only clapping but yelling from the audience.
I don’t condone yelling out. It is disruptive. But clapping or booing, as long as it doesn’t interrupt a speaker, ought to be tolerated.
Decorum can be enforced without requiring the public to sit on their hands and bite their tongues. The mayor needs to change this rule.