Hunt Exposes Another Attempt By Leppert To Limit Free Speech

Back in June, Mayor Tom Leppert tried to slip some changes into the city council's rules of procedure without asking input from his colleagues, but his plan was derailed when Angela Hunt took issue with one of the changes that would have eliminated the morning open-microphone session. Most recently, the afternoon open-microphone session was addressed when a decision was made not to broadcast that session on radio or television. Seemed like another command from Leppert, but he wasn't fessing up, nor was anyone else.

So, at today's council briefing, a small but vocal group of people, which included members of ACORN, showed up to express their concern over the decision, no matter who made it. Leppert tried to downplay everything, assuring the group that a number of council members were concerned about the afternoon speakers and there would be a briefing in January to discuss the matter among the full council.

However, Hunt didn't let him off the hook that easy, saying she was unclear regarding who made the directive.

"It was mine," Leppert admitted. "Over the course of several conversations over a relatively long period of time, the concern was that there were comments being made that were very offensive to certain groups in our community."

Hunt's response, along with Dwaine Caraway's thoughts after the jump.

"I have to disagree with your decision to do this unilaterally without consulting the council and without having an open dialog about it," Hunt responded.

Hunt said she had the same concerns when Leppert proposed "very serious changes" to the speaking rules back in June.

"We work for these folks, and I think it's inappropriate to limit their time," she said. "I will not be supportive of any measures to limit or otherwise curtail our bosses' ability to tell us what they want us to hear."

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, who has had his fair share of confrontations with speakers, said he's been embarrassed at times by some of the comments made at the end of meetings.

"I don't inject race, but I'm going to today. As an African American, I need to be respected here, and my colleagues who are non-African American as well. We are the Dallas City Council," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and be called 'a house nigger.'"

Caraway, of course, was referring to the February 27 meeting during which council regular William Hopkins directed the slur at him, which led to Hopkins' removal from chambers. Leppert mentioned "several" council members who shared his concerns about the afternoon speakers, but Caraway was the only one who spoke up, and this comment would indicate he was the one who pushed Leppert to make the decision.

"When an abuse is being done, I will make a call," Caraway said. "It may not be a call that folks might like, but I'm going to make a call on behalf of the citizens, and the majority of the citizens that we're trying to take care of." Caraway was outraged that time was being wasted on discussing whether or not people should be on TV, and he borrowed a phrase from Mayor Tom as he began talking about moving things "forward."

"This has to stop. We have to continue to move our city and our community forward. We're not trying to step on anybody's rights, but I'm not going to have my rights stepped on neither," he said. "We don't have to come down here and play. And sometimes you've got to call it just like it is. And I'm not afraid to call it like it is. And we're not going to be playing about those things. We don't have time to play. The city council has to move this city forward."

Carolyn Davis made a strange analogy, comparing the issue to losing the right to vote, but summed it up best by saying the rights of everyone shouldn't be taken away because of six people who show up regularly to issue personal attacks. "We have to have tough skin around this horseshoe," she said.

Vonciel Hill twice commended Leppert's decision to take another look at the issue, even though he had made it without consulting the council and she referred to it as "an error."

"We work hard in this country to maintain our constitutional freedoms, and the First Amendment is an absolute right," Hill said. "If we begin to limit what we do in our freedom of speech, and that includes people having the opportunity to be seen on the television ... where do we stop? That is a very dangerous precedent." --Sam Merten

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