Atlanta Council Rejects Two Minute Speaking Request after 40 Minute Debate
(APN) ATLANTA — The City Council of Atlanta took an extraordinary vote Monday, October 17, 2011, on whether to grant an additional two minutes of public speaking time to F. “Pres” President, an advocate for People TV, the endangered public access station.
Ms. President ran out of time while making her remarks at the Full Council meeting, where two minutes is typically allotted per person.
Councilman CT Martin (District 10), who said he was inspired by the dedication of a statute memorializing Dr. Martin Luther King in Washington, DC, over the weekend, made a motion to grant Ms. President an additional two minutes to speak.
Ensued a lengthy debate, in which Natalyn Archibong (District 5) and Martin spoke in favor of the time extension, while Cleta Winslow (District 4) and Felicia Moore (District 9) spoke against.
The Council then voted 5 to 6, against granting the time extension, with Archibong erroneously recorded as a nay vote.
The five yeays were Carla Smith (District 1), Kwanza Hall (District 2), Ivory Young (District 3), Martin, and Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large).
The six nays included five actual nays and one misrecorded nay. The five actual nays were Winslow, Alex Wan (District 6), Howard Shook (District 7), Yolanda Adrean (District 8), and Moore.
The meeting video shows that Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11) got up and left her seat seconds before the vote in an apparent attempt to avoid being on record on the issue. Aaron Watson (Post 2-at-large) and Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) also missed the vote. [Joyce Sheperd (District 12) was absent.]
Atlanta Progressive News immediately noticed the error and alerted Archibong’s office.
The meeting video shows that Archibong was not present for the vote. She had advised Council President Ceasar Mitchell that she would be stepping out to go to court.
It is not clear how Archibong’s vote was misrecorded: whether another Council Member fraudulently pressed the button on her desk, or whether the equipment malfunctioned. Nor is it clear how many other votes are misrecorded on a regular basis.
Archibong returned to the Council meeting to correct her vote. Councilman Young then called for another vote, leading to another debate.
The second vote was 9 to 4 in favor of letting Ms. President speak.
In addition to the five yeas from the first vote–Smith, Hall, Young, Martin, and Bond–voting in favor also were Archibong, who had previously been misrecorded; Shook, who changed his vote; and Bottoms and Willis, who decided to vote this time.
The four nays were Winslow, Wan, Adrean, and Moore.
Incidentally, Councilman Watson, who was present for the entire meeting, managed to leave the room for both votes.
After the second vote, the meeting came to a three minute stand-still, with Council President Mitchell consulting with Peter Andrews from the Law Department and others, off-microphone. Indeed, video footage shows Mr. Mitchell covering the microphone with his hand to prevent the conversation from becoming audible.
APN’s News Editor–the present writer–who is already in litigation the City over a variety of closed meetings is also concerned about Monday’s meeting, where off-microphone discussions amounted to a portion of the meeting being closed. APN’s Editor has previously warned the Committee on Council about the need for all their comments to be audible.
After this three minute effectively-closed meeting, Mitchell announced that the vote still failed because a ten vote supermajority would have been needed.
Based on APN’s observation of the meeting video, the entire debate took forty minutes.
“It’s not that I don’t want to hear about People TV, I certainly support People TV… The reason why I’m voting no, is, once we set a precedent, there’s no going back. So, if we’re going to set a precedent today… we’re again setting that precedent for any other time someone wants to do that and a motion is made. And I’m not in favor of doing that at this point,” Moore said.
Previously, after Moore conducted the secret vote of February 2010 over whether to limit public comment in Committees, Moore told APN that she voted no in that instance because she preferred for the Committees to have flexibility over the rules they want to set. It is unclear how that position is consistent with her position in this instance, where she is not supportive of the Full Council to have that same flexibility that she wanted the Committees to have.
Winslow and Moore encouraged Ms. President to attend the Committee of purview. However, when the City Utilities Committee held a special Work Session on People TV several weeks ago, attended by Atlanta Progressive News, Chairwoman Natalyn Archibong was the only Committee Member out of seven who attended.
“I stood there yesterday at the memorial and heard out the cry aloud, and I saw the people and I saw the expression on their faces, I think since this is the continuation of the week in memory of Martin Luther, who would perhaps do the same thing that’s being asked here,” Martin said.
“Now, all rules and practices that are made, that’s why they use the word waiver and that’s why you have an opportunity to treat each one on a case by case basis. It doesn’t do anything criminal or otherwise to simply give this girl two more minutes,” Martin said.
“I think that’s what this process is for. If you want to vote it down, that’s an option that you have. I believe a lot of people voted for us to be here so that in a sitution of this nature if we had to make an adjustment, that we would do it. Because I think we spoke when we were campaigning saying we were about people. This is really a small matter. I guarantee we have bigger matters to be dealing with,” Martin said.
“I think it’s inhuman for us to be that way. I don’t think that’s the way Martin would want us to be. I don’t think Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth,” Martin said.
“Now, just to pull a technicality on the law, I don’t think that’s the proper way to go. We’ll just see how the vote goes. And understand that when you get ready to run again, I really wouldn’t suggest you be out there talking about you’re for the people, by the people, just say that you’re part of the establishment and that you play by the rules. We know how rules are made and we know when they are broken,” Martin said.
The attorney, Mr. Andrews, argued, after being asked by Mr. Mitchell for his opinion several times, that granting additional time to one speaker but not another would be a violation of the equal protection clause under the Constitution of the US related to First Amendment rights. However, nine out of thirteen Council Members were apparently not moved by that argument.
Andrews said that someone could sue the City over not getting the same time extension that might have been granted to Ms. President. Presumably, Andrews was referring to the present writer.
Also, it should be noted that there are bodies that provide time flexibility as part of their public speaking rules, including the Atlanta Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. According to a copy of their sign-in sheet obtained by APN, “Each person recognized for addressing the Board or its Committees shall LIMIT HIS OR HER REMARKS TO TWO (2) MINUTES, unless further time is granted by the presiding officer or a majority of the Board.”
Councilman Young also indirectly referred to the present writer in his remarks.
“There are a number of folks who would love to manipulate our system to try to portray us as evil and demigods and not offering an opportunity for the public to speak freely,” Young said. APN’s Editor called the Council “evil, corrupt, and the most anti-democratic practices I’ve ever seen in a US city,” in remarks on October 03, 2011.
As previously reported by APN, People TV is in a fiscal crisis after the City re-negotiated its contract with Comcast cable providing only limited funds for the station, which will expire in 2012. People TV has opted not to renew the lease on its studio and still does not have a functional Board of Directors, in part because Mayor Kasim Reed has failed to appoint members to the Board.
Councilman Hall told APN that he is working on legislation to provide new funding for People TV; Archibong made public statements to the same effect.