Several months ago City Council agreed unanimously to create and provide to the public a summary how to present a citizens petition to Council. This summary is provided to everyone coming to speak and is referred to as Rules of Decorum.
The Rules of Decorum is a summary of rules previously established in the City Charter which describes how the City runs public meetings. One rule that was left out of this summary is “All remarks shall be addressed to the Council as a body and not to any member thereof.” (The full text from the City code is provided below).
Recently, it has been suggested or implied that Council included this as a “new” rule to purposely silence people by infringing on First Amendment rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The following is from Robin Tatum Currin, Raleigh City Attorney, regarding the rule of decorum that Council adopted.
The rule of decorum is not a First Amendment problem. It has gotten misconstrued because of mistaken perception it was directed at Eric Braun. This is not true. This rule of decorum is a common rule for boards and commissions everywhere. Specifically:
Council’s action yesterday was to add a provision to its Rules of Decorum that has long been a part of the City Code (see Code Section 1-1031 below).
There appears to be some misunderstanding as to the purpose of the Rule, which in no way limits the content of a person’s speech, but instead simply assists in maintaining order in the meeting. This Rule does not control in any way what a speaker can say or who the speaker can talk about; it instead directs speakers to address his or her comments (regardless of the content of the comments) to the entire City Council that is holding the public meeting, and not to specific individual members.
This rule is not uncommon (e.g., the Town of Cary has the same rule). Also, and importantly, when City Council meets, it can only act as a single body, and requests are made to the Council as a whole, and decisions are by majority vote. Therefore, addressing remarks to only one member is not productive for this reason as well. I hope this helps to address your concerns.
Sec. 1-1031. – SAME—MANNER.
Each person addressing the Council shall give the person’s name and address in an audible tone of voice for the records. All remarks shall be addressed to the Council as a body and not to any member thereof. No person other than the Council and the person having the floor shall be permitted to enter any discussion, directly or through a member of the Council, without the permission of the presiding officer. No question shall be asked a Council member except through the presiding officer.
(Code 1959 , §2-1D)