Mayor Tom Bates said Thursday that the vote the City Council took on Tuesday during a raucous and unruly meeting was legal, and that he has no intention of bringing the matter back to the council, despite critics’ complaint that the vote violated the Brown Act.
Bates said that City Attorney Zach Cowan reviewed the tape of the meeting and determined that there were no violations.
“There is no need for a special meeting” to take another vote, Bates said from northern California, where he is on vacation.
Bates defended his handling of the last 20 minutes of the meeting, which saw Councilmember Kriss Worthington and Councilmember Max Anderson clap and sing “We Will Not Be Moved,” one from the dais and one from the floor of the council chambers. The noise from the crowd made it impossible to hear or converse, Bates said, so he called for a brief recess, which did not calm anyone down.
After consulting with Vice-Mayor Linda Maio, Bates decided to call for a vote on putting a sitting ban on the November ballot, despite the fact the singing continued, there were people in the audience who wanted to talk, there were councilmembers who wanted to talk, and Councilmember Jesse Arreguín had introduced a substitute motion.
“It was clear they were intent upon stopping us from making a decision and trying to run the clock out because we had extended the meeting until 12:30 [a.m.],” said Bates. “It was impossible to carry on any kind of business…. Democracy can’t function that way. You have to have opportunities for debate. You have to have opportunities for people to express themselves…. It was pandemonium. They were yelling. We couldn’t hear one or two people away.”
Bates said he considered asking the police to clear the room but thought it would be disruptive.
After the vote, which passed after six councilmembers voted for the sitting ban and Worthington, Anderson, and Arreguín abstained (although a review of the meeting tape shows they did not respond to the roll call rather than actively abstaining), accusations of abuse were leveled against Bates. In a press release titled “Mayor’s Mistakes Censor Free Speech,” Worthington, Arreguín, and Anderson said Bates handled the meeting poorly and forced a vote without discussion from the council. They also said Bates violated the Brown Act because he conferred with other city councilmembers in a back room and denied the trio the right to talk.
Bates said he asked Maio and possibly Darryl Moore whether they should proceed with a vote. They never discussed the substance of the legislation, so they did not violate the Brown Act, said Bates.
The dispute arose late in the night after more than 40 people had spoken out against the sitting ban, which would make it illegal to sit on a sidewalk in a commercial district between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Violators could be fined $50.
Around 11:50 pm, a member of the audience started to sing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and Worthington and his aide, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, quickly joined them on the floor of the council chamber. Worthington made gestures to encourage the audience to get on its feet and soon almost the entire crowd was singing and clapping.
Bates quickly called for a recess and most of the council left the room. For the next 12 minutes, according to a review of the meeting tape, the crowd sang, with Anderson singing intermittently into his microphone. Arreguín clapped from his seat on the dais, but did not appear to sing.
Bates and the rest of the council then reappeared. When the crowd did not stop singing, Bates called for a vote. He asked Arreguín and Maio if they wanted to talk, and they both said yes. But at that point Anderson started to sing again into the microphone and Worthington started to insist the motion was out of order. Bates told Worthington and the crowd that if they sat down there would be an opportunity for the council to discuss the measure. When that did not happen, the City Clerk started to take a roll call vote, even as Worthington and Anderson protested through their microphones. The council took a vote and the measure passed.
Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said Tuesday’s meeting was the worst in terms of decorum he has ever seen in his eight years on the City Council. Given the shouting going on during the vote, and the crowd that would not stop singing, Bates handled the situation properly, he said.
“Clearly we were not going to be permitted to discuss or present our own ideas on the proposals, so I think he (Bates) decided to proceed without a discussion and put it to a vote, even though it was hard to hear him because people were literally singing into the microphone, said Capitelli. “I thought he handled it appropriately.”
Review the meeting video here. The singing begins 4:42:59 minutes into the meeting.
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