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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Emery School District & City Rolls Back Citizen Speech, Access to Their Government

Citizen Engagement Sharply Curtailed by City/Schools
The City of Emeryville and the Emery Unified School District joined forces last Wednesday to sharply curtail and restrict public access to their government by dramatically reducing citizen's rights at public meetings held by the two bodies.  The new regime of harsh restrictions came in a 'rules and procedures' update announced by the City and the School District February 26th.

Among the new restrictions at City/Schools Committee meetings:

  • Citizens may not criticize the job performance of a specific Council member or School Board member, only the body as a whole. 
  • No questions may be directed to any specific Council member or Board member.
  • Citizen speaking time is reduced from 3 minutes to 2 minutes at the open 'public comments' section and reduced from 3 minutes to 1 minute for other items on the official agenda. 
  • The Presiding Officer is empowered to allow certain citizens to speak longer if the officer so desires.
  • Citizen speakers are required to identify themselves and give their place of residence, anonymous comments will no longer be allowed.
  • Only "duly accredited" representatives of the press and other media will be permitted to remain and observe the continuing proceedings after the Presiding Officer clears the room for any reason. 

The new rules and procedures document also states the Presiding Officer shall prevent citizens "bullying" the City Council or the School Board members.

Some of the new rules announced for the City/Schools meetings were also attempted to be ensconced separately at the City Council meetings and the School Board meetings several years ago.  The City Attorney was forced to retract several rules after they were challenged by citizen activists.  At least two were determined to be illegal, those being the requirement for citizens to identify themselves and the prohibition against addressing a specific Council or Board member.

In addition to the above two bogus rules, Wednesday's other rules may similarly face citizen push-back and some may also be illegal.
For instance the arbitrary and suspect separation between "duly accredited"members of the press and those not accredited or recognized by the government almost certainly does not comport with the Constitution.  Other rules are clearly an attempt by the City and the District to quash citizen dissenters and appear arbitrary and capricious; the respective two and one minute speaking limits for some speakers with provisions to allow other speakers (that the government likes) unregulated speaking is such an attempt to stifle dissenters.  The prohibition against citizens 'bullying' their government representatives is notable in that the new rule turns the word bully on its head, the essential prerequisite imbalance of power having been reversed.  A bully is one who intimidates or abuses a weaker person(s), as when a government representative intimidates or abuses a citizen or group of citizens.  The reverse, when a powerless citizen becomes emboldened, what might be called bullying here, is commonly referred to as "speaking truth to power" in other less authoritarian quarters.

The City/Schools Committee is comprised of all five City Council members and all five School Board members.

Below is a posting of the relevant sections of the updated rules and procedures:

February 26, 2014 

2.14 Preservation of Order:  The Presiding Officer shall preserve strict order and decorum, shall prevent threatening, bullying, or disruptive verbal attacks on the Emeryville City/School Committee members, staff, and/or citizens, confine debate to the item under discussion, and discourage demonstrations before the Emeryville City/School Committee such as applauding or “booing”. 

2.16 Authority to Clear Room Where Meeting Willfully Interrupted, Etc.:  Upon instructions by the Presiding Officer, the Chief of Police or his or her designee may be called for the purpose of removing any person who, in the Presiding Officer’s judgment, has violated the rules of conduct and has disrupted the meeting. In the event that any meeting is willfully interrupted by an individual, group or groups of persons so as to render the orderly conduct of such meeting infeasible and order cannot be restored by removal of the individual or individuals who are willfully interrupting the meeting, the Presiding Officer may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session.  Only matters appearing on the Agenda may be considered in such a session. Duly accredited representatives of the press or other news media, except those participating in the disturbance, shall be allowed to attend any session held pursuant to this section.  Nothing in this section shall prohibit the Presiding Officer from establishing a procedure for readmitting an individual or individuals not responsible for willfully disturbing the orderly conduct of the meeting. 

                                    B. The following shall apply for “Agenda Items”:
2. Before the Emeryville City/School Committee takes action on the item, if any action is contemplated, the Presiding Officer shall recognize those members of the public who have signaled their desire to address the Committee. Each person, once recognized by the Presiding Officer, shall approach in an orderly fashion, and state their name and city of residence for the record.  To assist with preparation of the minutes of the meeting, each person is asked to sign their name on a speakers list at the podium, but is not required to do so. 

5. All remarks on an Agenda Item shall be directed to the Presiding Officer and the Emeryville City/School Committee as a body and not to any particular member of the Emeryville City/School Committee, staff or member of the public. 

7. No question shall be asked of Emeryville City/School Committee Members, the City Manager, School Superintendent or staff except through the Presiding Officer.

C. The following shall apply for “Public Comments”:
3. Each speaker is limited to two (2) minutes for any comment during “Public Comments”. At the discretion of the Presiding Officer, the time allotted to an individual speaker may be further adjusted.

D. The following shall apply for any other portion of the Agenda:
2. Each speaker is limited to one (1) minute for any comment on any other portion of the Agenda. At the discretion of the Presiding Officer, the time allotted to an individual speaker may be further adjusted.


  1. They must know what is coming. Do they have enough money to build the new school or has it already been squandered?

  2. You know it's already been squandered. Hell, I'm not even sure they ever raised enough money in the first place.
    Why did all the principals behind the project leave the project before ground was broken, didn't any of them want/need to see it to completion? Those people weren't stupid, they knew when to leave the sinking ship, from Tony Smith and his 90,90,90 in 09 that was NEVER going to happen, to Roy Miller, the projects biggest champion for the last 10 years.