Faced with a displeased resident who attends every board meeting to repeatedly accuse them of being in an “unholy alliance,” Orange County supervisors appear set this week to approve new limits on public comments.
After months of comments from Michael Wayne Klubnikin, who has increasingly used items on the weekly agenda as a platform to discuss a dispute he has with the county’s public guardian and Social Services Agency, patience among supervisors has run thin.
“It’s time theft,” said Chairman John Moorlach. “I’ve got people who spend all day there waiting for an item to come up.”
The move comes just months after the county won an American Civil Liberties lawsuit alleging that supervisors violated the constitution when they interrupted Anaheim resident William Fitzgerald during public comments.
The new rules would limit speakers to addressing only three agenda items per meeting and require attendees to fill out a form that asks for their names and home addresses.
A similar proposal was narrowly turned down last month on a 3-2 vote but has since gained support from Supervisor Bill Campbell.
“Bill had his fill,” said Moorlach, referring to his colleague's change of heart at the most recent board meeting when Campbell, who voted against limitations, expressed interest after Klubnikin insulted supervisors over their reluctance to take action on his case.
Klubnikin often finds seemingly loose connections between his dispute, which involves the county taking over several family-owned homes, and various agenda items ranging, such as child support contracts and purchases of computer software and air conditioning.
“He has to deal with the courts, and the judges have already looked at him and said ‘no,’ ” Moorlach said.
“I appreciate someone wanting to vent,” said Moorlach, “but when you’re just there to badger, you’re stealing time from everyone else.”
The effort to limit public comment, however, has generated legal questions from a leading open-government expert.
Terry Francke of Californians Aware, who also consults with Voice of OC on open record issues, takes issue with the speaker card requirement, saying local government agencies may not require people to give their names or addresses in order to speak.
“Disclosure of one's address cannot reasonably be made a mandatory precondition to one's right to address the body,” said Francke.
“Making self-identification a mandatory precondition of speech in a public meeting is statutorily and constitutionally impermissible without a compelling state interest, which is absent here,” he added.
Asked about Francke’s assessment, Moorlach agreed that speakers’ names and addresses should not be required and said he would talk with the county counsel.
Francke agreed that supervisors could cap speaking time to a certain number of items, but he suggested that a fairer approach would be to set an overall time limit, for example 10 minutes per person.
“A speaker might want to comment on 10 items for one minute each. Another might want to spend three or four minutes on three items,” said Francke. “Why should the person confining himself to only brief comments be at a disadvantage?
Moorlach agreed, saying it’s “a good suggestion.”
“I just don’t know how we’d do it in practice,” he added, suggesting changes could be made later.
Moorlach acknowledged that the new item limit could also affect Westminster resident Darrell Nolta, who frequently comments on several agenda items.
Yet Moorlach indicated that if people have constructive comments on more than three items, he would likely allow them to speak.
“It’s a sad thing, but we’ve got a guy who watched Darrell, and he abused it.”