Thursday, September 13, 2007

Muncie City Council Bans Two Candidates From Future Meetings

Recently two city council candidates were banned from the Muncie city council meeting for statements made at a public hearing. Let me start by saying that this case is in no way similar the complaint I filed against the Fort Wayne City Council and City Clerk when they locked me out of a city council meeting. However, the very fact that local government officials think they can ban citizens from future meetings for something they said is a scary thought and should be a wake up call to everyone.
MUNCIE -- Two candidates for Muncie City Council have been banned from future city council meetings after one used what some perceived to be racial phrase and the other suggested tarring and feathering some current council members.

Both comments came late in Monday's City Council meeting as the men at separate times stood at a lectern in front of the council.

Jerry Fowler, who is white, addressed councilman Monte Murphy, an African American firefighter, as "black bat" when Murphy volunteered to answer Fowler's question about a firefighter retirement plan.

Fowler is an independent challenger to the District 1 seat, currently occupied by Democrat Sam Marshall.

"I've experienced this before," Murphy told The Star Press on Tuesday. "It's something you just deal with."

On Tuesday, City Council President Bill Shroyer, a Democrat, announced that Fowler and Basil Davis Sr., who suggested some members be tarred and feathered, would be banned from city council meetings for as long as Shroyer is president.

"I'm outraged at their behavior," Shroyer said.

Shroyer lost his bid for re-election in the May Democratic primary, and his last meeting will be Jan. 7.

Davis is a Republican candidate for one of three at-large City Council seats this November and is a veteran tax remonstrator who has attended hundreds of local government meetings since 1983.

City Council attorney Joe Hunter said Tuesday he would research whether Shroyer had the legal authority to keep Fowler and Davis from the meetings.

Research? Are you kidding me?!? YOU CANNOT BAN CITIZENS FROM MEETINGS! Where do these guys come up with stuff? Of course don't expect any help from the Public Access Counselor as she doesn't seem to be too interested in advocating for open government. Maybe they can bring Fort Wayne City Attorney Tim Manges on as a consultant to distort the facts for them. This is why we need advocates for open government - this blatant violation of state law cannot and should not be tolerated.

Government at all levels has not adjusted to the information age. They're used to being able to operate in semi-secrecy where only a few non-apathetic voters were there to challenge them. That day is over and if you don't like it then you had better get out of government. In the meantime I would suggest these two men in Muncie become members (as I am) of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. The more people we rally for the cause the more likely we are to make a difference...

H/T: Mitch Harper


Phil Marx said...

Jeff, I actually disagree with you on this. I think there should be a certain level of decorum required when you're speaking publicly. That is not to say that you shouldn't be allowed to criticize, or even to question the motives of the council, it's just a question of how you say it.

I don't believe that these two comments, one a racially charged slur and the other a threat of physical violence should have been tolerated. That's not to say that they can't say it, just not during council sessions.

Here's a related question to consider though. Is Fort Wayne City Council required to allow public comments? I heard Schmidt say at one meeting "It is our tradition to allow the public to speak at these meetings..." He did not refer to it as a legal obligation though. I was curious, so I looked through the city code and found nothing covering this.

Perhaps it's a state law, but I would have no idea where to search for that. The point I'm getting at is, if the Council is not required to do this, and someone speaks out like these two guys did, couldn't Council just say "meeting adjourned" and leave the room. With no council before them, and probably no cameras either, these guys would be reduced to the idiot standing on the sidewalk screaming and shouting.

Jeff Pruitt said...


First I would disagree with the characterization that these two comments were a racial slur and a threat. I think it's just a useful characterization for those people that disagree with the speakers.

Having said that, it's one thing to ban someone from speaking as you seem to suggest and a whole other thing to ban them from the meeting altogether. You cannot ban people from public meetings because they said something offensive at the last meeting. Not only is it against the law it's downright un-American.

There is no statutory requirement that says a city council must allow citizens to speak at council meetings - it's a courtesy.

Phil Marx said...


Unless "black bat" is a common nickname used by that councilman, then I think that would definetly classify as a racial slur. The comment about tar and feathers, I expect, was only meant as a euphamism, but the line between this and an actual threat can sometimes be cloudy.

You are correct in surmising that I was focusing on their right to speak at, rather than to attend the meetings. This was my fault for not reading your post carefully.

I have a question though. Is there anything that could be seen as legal grounds for barring someone from attending the meetings. Suppose a man calls a councilwoman (or a councilmans wife) a dirty f-----g b---h. Suppose someone stands up and shouts out from the audience when they are not the recognized speaker. Suppose a man lunges towards one of the councilmen and physically strikes him? Some of these cases may result in fines or even imprisonment, but after the money and time is paid, could they still be banned from future meetings? I'm not trying to be argumentative here, just inquisitive.

Jeff Pruitt said...

I would imagine that if you are disrupting the meeting and/or attempt to physically attack a member of the council or audience then you can and should be removed. Does that mean you should be permanently banned? I suppose I would want to know the circumstances first but in general I would not support a permanent ban.

Once you start down that road it is difficult to determine where it might lead. But in this specific case I don't see any reason whatsoever why these two gentlemen should be banned from future meetings...