The Rockport City Council, at its special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 31, discussed Section 2-28(c) of the City’s Code of Ordinances, which addresses decorum at council meetings.
“The purpose of putting this on the agenda was comments made by Ms. (Councilwoman Katy) Jackson (during a previous meeting about the City’s Code of Conduct, operating under Robert’s Rules of Order, etc.),” said Mayor Pat Rios.
“To my knowledge we haven’t limited (public comment) … but we need to retain decorum.
“What we don’t want to have is meetings to get out of hand.”
The mayor said there have been personal attacks on members of City staff, and he has been blamed for being disrespectful.
“I don’t feel that way,” said Rios.
He said private conversations that take place in the audience need to be taken outside (council chambers).
Rios said City staff has been “very good” about engaging with the public, and added, “We’ve never asked anyone to leave (a council meeting).”
The mayor did say posts on social media are “inciting mayhem” at meetings, etc.
“We are not looking to silence anyone, but I will not allow (council) meetings to get out of hand,” said Rios. “Respect goes both ways.”
Councilwoman Katy Jackson, referring to the City Charter, said it says the city manager shall make sure ordinances are enforced.
“I have a laundry list of codes that are not enforced,” she said.
Referring to her comments at a previous meeting about following Robert’s Rules of Order, she said, “I opened a can of worms.
“I can speak, or keep my mouth shut. I was not elected to keep my mouth shut.”
Councilwoman Andrea Hattman said, “We (council, City staff, and members of the public) need to all remember to respect each other.
“We can’t do our job if we’re constantly going back and forth (with members of the public during meetings).
“Lets move forward and get things done.”
Councilman Brad Brundrett said he values input from the public.
“I don’t know how else I can make decisions,” he said. “You may not like my decision, but I still show (everyone) respect.
“I think we can all do a little better job.”
Brundrett also noted he doesn’t have a problem with people applauding during a meeting (following comments, etc.).
Rios said he doesn’t either, but calling someone liar is not called for.
Mayor Pro-tem J.D. Villa said, “If you call me out, I’ll call you out.”
He also noted the tables were taken out of the temporary council chambers because someone in the audience kept knocking on them and disrupting meetings.
Rios then addressed social media posts.
“There is so much misinformation on social media,” he said. “If (what’s said) is based on fact, that’s fine.
“If we do something wrong, we should be called out.”
Rios said he has received 10-plus calls after recent meetings, with the callers asking, “Where are these people coming from?” And, then adding, “Keep up the good work.”
Rios asked the public to base comments on fact, not emotion, adding that many comments about members of City staff are made by people who have never spent any time with (the staff member being targeted).
The mayor then stated the obvious, “We’ve all been through a lot of grief (Hurricane Harvey, COVID, freeze, flooding, etc.).”
He closed the comments about decorum at meetings saying, “City Council works on policy. Our responsibility is the health, safety, and welfare of residents. We rely on staff to help make our decisions.”
Prior to discussion by council, Andrew Kane, Kristie Rutledge, and Russell Roberts commented about the agenda item.
Kane asked, “What’s the problem with clapping (applauding)?”
He said threatening to “have the bailiff” remove someone sends the wrong message.
“When I see this on the agenda, I see an attempt to limit our reaction (to comments, decisions made, etc.),” said Kane.
He called out the council and City staff noting, “You just address citizens’ (behavior), not the behavior of council and staff.”
He said Rios and City Manager Kevin Carruth have chastised members of the public.
“The rules apply to you, as well,” said Kane.
Rutledge said, “This ordinance is actually kind of shocking. The mayor and city manager have a history of slandering the public.”
She said she told the mayor she was “approached inappropriately” and the mayor said he was sorry she felt intimidated.
“I will not tolerate being berated,” said Rutledge. “I can’t believe how the mayor treated my friend Jeff Hutt.”
She said the minutes of council meetings don’t reflect how residents are treated.
“I will come to this podium and (use a boisterous voice if I feel like it). I will not be intimidated,” said Rutledge.
Roberts took a medium position about the topic at hand.
“I assume you’re not concerned with positive responses, but rather slander, etc.,” he said. “Freedom of speech is important. How will you know how we feel if we can’t express ourselves?
“If someone does something I don’t approve of, I have to have a way to share how I feel, in a civil way.
“We do have Constitutional rights. I’m not sure this part of the ordinance is constitutional.”
No action was taken. The item was on the agenda for discussion only.
Section 2-28(c) say?
Section 2-28(c) Citizens. Citizens are welcome and invited to attend all meetings of the city council
1. All citizens will refrain from private conversations in the chamber while the council is in session.
2. Citizens attending council meetings shall observe the same rules of propriety, decorum and good conduct applicable to the administrative staff. Any person making personal, impertinent, or slanderous remarks, or who becomes boisterous while addressing the council or while attending the council meeting shall be removed from the room if the sergeant-at-arms is so directed by the presiding officer, and such person shall be barred from further audience before the council during that session of the council.
3. Inappropriate remarks from the audience, stamping of feet, applauding, whistles, yells, and similar demonstrations shall not be permitted by the presiding officer, who shall direct the sergeant-at-arms to remove such offenders from the room. In case the presiding officer shall fail to act, any member of the council may move to require him or her to act to enforce the rules, and the affirmative vote of three members of the council shall require the presiding officer to act.
4. No placards, banners, or signs of any kind will be permitted in the council chamber except exhibits, displays, and visual aids used in connection with presentations to the council, provided that such exhibits, displays, and visual aids do not disrupt the meeting.
5. Enforcement. The city manager, in the absence of a designated law enforcement officer, shall act as sergeant-at-arms for the council, and shall furnish whatever assistance is needed to enforce the rules of decorum herein established.
6. Seating arrangement. The city manager, city attorney and city secretary shall occupy respective seats in the council chamber assigned to them by the mayor. The mayor shall be seated in the middle of the council members who shall be in equal numbers on either side of him or her, arranged numerically by ward. (Ord. No. 1186, § 1, 1-8-2002).