Every Wednesday, before and after every Dallas City Council meeting, there is an open mic session. Most of the stuff that comes up is rambling, off-topic, and beyond the scope of a municipal government's authority (e.g. 9/11 conspiracy theories), and council members may or may not pretend to listen. Nevertheless, it is their duty to at least be present.
Last month, the council debated whether to change the rules by restricting speakers to one appearance every 30 days, a pretty clear rebuke to perennial gadflies like Richard Sheridan, who could no doubt wax on for hours unchecked.
There was a lengthy debate over the measure's First Amendment implications. It's perfectly within the city's purview to change the rule (Texas' Open Meetings Act allows a governing body to set limits on the number, frequency and length of speakers), and some (Vonciel Hill, Sheffie Kadane) felt that the 30-day limit was reasonable. Others (Carolyn Davis, Dwaine Caraway) were hesitant to silence anyone. The measure was delayed, then referred to the Quality of Life Committee, where it's scheduled to be discussed on Monday. After that, it's back to the full council for another round of debate. There's really no limit to how long this could go on.
Here's the thing, though. The 30-day rule? It's already in place, not in the City Council's official policy book, which states simply that frequent speakers are moved to the back of the line, but in practice.
Raymond Crawford, who tirelessly lobbied against fracking, said the City Secretary's Office basically never allowed him to sign up to speak more than once per month (once or twice, after a 25-plus day absence, they might have made an exception, he says).
So, he brought friends. "A group of us would kind of rotate around," he says. That way, someone was there to berate the council on fracking at every meeting.
In other words, the City Council is going around in circles to pass a rule that's already in effect. Crawford is puzzled as to why, which is understandable. It's a legitimate thing to be puzzled by.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
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