Should clapping be outlawed at city council meetings?

That is a question currently being considered by the Fullerton City Council.

At its March 15 meeting, the council discussed a proposed amendment to its rules of conduct that would prohibit clapping, cheering, booing and other similar actions during their council meetings. Also, the amendment would require people who want to display signs to stand in the back row of the council chambers.

To say the least, the proposal was met with resistance.

Barry Levinson, a parks and recreation commissioner for the city, said that he thinks officials are trying to retaliate against dissenting citizen voices like himself.

“It’s all political and it is a violation of our First Amendment rights,” Levinson told the council during public comment. “You’re fighting back dirty.”

Other residents were quick to agree with Levinson.

Jane Rands, a member of the city’s bicycle users subcommittee, said that such an ordinance could be “constitutionally overbroad.”

“I would also like to question how that would be enforced,” she Rands told the council. Rands She gave an example of award presentations and the applause that usually follows after. “How would we selectively enforce this? I don’t think that’s going to pass constitutional muster.”

Sean Paden, a member of the Fullerton design review committee, echoed Rands’ concerns. He said that “content-based distinction” regarding clapping is not lawful. He told the council that applause allows for people, who may be too timid to speak during public comment, to express their support for something,

Paden also expressed concerns over making people who wished to display signs at the meetings sit in the back row. He said that in the eyes of the law, signs are not considered a disruption.

“That sign right there is not a disruption,” Paden said, as he pointed to resident Joe Imbriano’s sign, which read: “Public meetings should allow for maximum expression of opinions.”

“You might not like it, but it’s not a disruption,” Paden added.

Imbriano told the council that such an ordinance was “the ultimate slap in the face to the American way.”

All the speakers were applauded after making their comments.

After public comment, Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said that the rules of conduct are updated every few years to “iron out inconsistencies” and that some people may be discouraged to speak at council meetings because they aren’t accustomed to the cheering and booing that takes place in the chambers.

Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory said that she would like the clapping clause of the proposed amended ordinance to be removed. Councilman Doug Chaffee agreed.

“I would suggest that we could enhance efficiency by not dealing with this at all,” said Councilman Bruce Whitaker, adding that he doesn’t see the need to change anything in the rules of conduct. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

After the public comment and council discussion, council members unanimously approved Councilman Greg Sebourn’s motion to continue the item until the April 19 meeting so the council and public can see the revisions in “black and white.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at Scustodio21@csu.fullerton.edu.

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