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Last night, the St. Cloud City Council disgraced itself by silencing a citizen. Specifically, Councilman John Libert, who is up for re-election this year, objected to Councilman Jeff Johnson recognizing a speaker. If you read my article last night, you know that the speaker Councilman Johnson wanted to recognize is John Palmer, a retired professor at St. Cloud State. Dr. Palmer holds the title of Professor Emeritus.

Last night, a faithful reader of LFR sent me a copy of the changing rules of order for the City Council. Saying that they reflect an autocratic mindset sounds over-the-top. The history and the detailed rules say something else. For instance, Rule No. 16 of the City Council Rules of Order “through August 2017” said “Recognition of Speakers a) Any member may recognize any person for the purpose of addressing the Council. Said recognition shall terminate upon motion passed by a majority vote of members present.”

By the Dec. 11, 2017 Study Session, Rule 16 had morphed into “Recognition of Speakers: a) Any member, at a regular council meeting, may recognize any person for the purpose of providing testimony or addressing the Council on a specific agenda item being considered by Council. Said recognition shall terminate upon motion passed by a majority vote of members present. Such recognition may also be extended at council study sessions with the consent of the majority of members present.”

Last night, a different rule was in place:

Recognition of Speakers: a) Any member, at a regular council meeting, including study sessions, may recognize any person, without objection, for the purpose of providing testimony or addressing the Council on a specific agenda item being considered by Council. Said recognition shall terminate upon motion passed by a majority vote of members present.

The First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Dr. Palmer had the right to “petition the Government” and address their grievances. Had this happened in August, Dr. Palmer would have had the right to address the Council, though I suspect that Council President Lewis still would have improperly shut him down. She, along with the other ostriches, haven’t hesitated in restricting citizens’ speech rights if it’s speech they don’t agree with. What’s most infuriating is the fact that the rules that were in place last night weren’t approved by the City Council nor were they voted on in this form.

Think about that. Dr. Palmer was silenced by the city council president after she agreed with one of the city councilmembers who cited a rule that wasn’t voted on and that’s likely unconstitutional. Such reckless regard for the rules lead to anarchy like we saw last night. This is what that looked like last night:

Compare the St. Cloud City Council’s behavior with the behavior in this article:

“I feel like justice was finally served,” said Robin Hensel, whose refusal to move her chair at a 2013 Little Falls City Council meeting was at the heart of the court’s decision. Hensel, a grandmother and peace activist who frequently protests at Camp Ripley, said she never thought she would actually get charged when she moved a folding chair to the open space between the public galley and the City Council’s dais.

This is the major takeaway from that incident:

In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court sided with Hensel, saying: “The statute is broad and ambiguous, prohibiting any conduct or speech that ‘disturbs an assembly or meeting,’ whether expressive or not. An individual could violate the statute by, for example, wearing an offensive t-shirt, using harsh words in addressing another person, or even raising one’s voice in a speech.”

The Founding Fathers, aka the men who wrote the Constitution, wanted more speech, not less. They didn’t want speech being oppressed. They rebelled against that in their Declaration of Independence.

When Carol Lewis and John Libert silenced a retired professor, they trampled on a citizen’s right to free speech. What’s most alarming is that they silenced a man even though they didn’t know what he was about to say. It’s time to fire these autocrats the next time they’re up for re-election. It’s time to fire them because they’re autocrats, not constitutionalists.

Finally, Mayor Kleis bears some responsibility, too. As Dr. Palmer highlighted in the comments last night, Mayor Kleis didn’t fight against the constitutional missteps that happened last night. That can’t happen again. There’s never a time when the Constitution shouldn’t be defended. Last night, Mayor Kleis missed an opportunity to defend the Constitution.

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During the Open Discussion & Announcements section of tonight’s St. Cloud City Council meeting, Councilman Johnson rose to speak about the petition I wrote about in this post. After a few introductory comments, Councilman Johnson recognized Dr. Palmer for the purposes of letting him speak on the petition. Before Dr. Palmer was allowed to speak, Councilman Libert objected.

What happened next was nothing short of befuddling. First, the rule cited by Council President Lewis and Councilman Libert is unconstitutional on its face. Government can’t make rules that silence citizens. Period. That’s what this means:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

By objecting, Libert prohibited a citizen from speaking. The Supreme Court has held that political speech is the most protected speech of all. This isn’t the first time that the City Council has silenced Dr. Palmer. But I digress.

After Libert’s objection, Councilman Johnson reasserted his right to recognize a citizen to speak. Matt Staehling then ruled that Libert was within his rights in preventing Dr. Palmer from speaking. Johnson and Palmer both immediately demanded that the specific Council rule be posted on the overhead screen rather than accepting Staehling’s ruling. How stupid is a rule that lets a councilman recognize a citizen but another councilman can essentially exercise a one-person veto that prohibits that citizen from speaking?

Putting things impolitely, these liberals on the Council aren’t intellectual giants. I’ve met kids in high school that have more intellectual heft than some of these councilmembers.

While that was going on, Council President Lewis announced that she was going to look for the rule on her brand new iPad. Councilman Johnson predicted that she wouldn’t find it. Dr. Palmer quipped that his older iPad must be defective because that rule wasn’t on his iPad. Watch this all play out in this video:
After much arguing, Council President Lewis moved onto the final portion of the meeting. Once again, the St. Cloud City Council attempted to silence Dr. Palmer. The question must be asked why the City Council is intimidated by Dr. Palmer. Further, what gives them the right to stifle the speech of its citizens? Let’s remember that if this petition is put on the ballot, it isn’t binding. Dr. Palmer simply wants to bring up the subject because the City Council has attempted to silence discussion on the issue.

Meanwhile, the citizens are infuriated that their representatives on the City Council won’t talk about what’s important to their constituents. In St. Cloud, we don’t have a government of, by and for the people. Instead, we have a government of people who see themselves as imperialists. They aren’t there to serve the people. To people like Laraway, Lewis, Libert, Masters and Goerger, citizens are essentially a nuisance.

Being Escorted Out of a City Council Meeting Was Not on My Bucket List
By John W. Palmer, Ph.D.

At tonight’s St. Cloud City Council meeting, the sale of a portion of Heritage Park was up for consideration. As has become my practice during council meetings, I use an internet search engine to find facts related to the matter being discussed. Having previously searched for some basic information about Costco’s business practices, my curiosity was peaked regarding investment in Costco. With the council discussion focused on their fiduciary responsibility, some information relevant to that discussion came to my attention. I moved to the dais as Councilman Hontos was finishing his commentary supporting his position on the sale. Having reach the dais, I waited for a pause in the debate and when the pause happened I asked if any council member would recognize me to speak to the issue before the council.

Under council rules, any council member may recognize a person to speak to the issue at hand. When no response was given, I repeated my request. Council President Lewis then said we are not doing that now, we’re discussing the matter among the council. I unsuccessfully tried to have Council President Lewis follow the council rules and give all members of the council a chance to exercise their right to recognize a speaker. She repeated that that was not going to happen. Councilman Masters spoke up and advised me to wait until the council had finished its discussion to be recognized to speak.

While waiting for the council discussion to end I stayed at the dais. After a few minutes, I heard a voice behind me and to the right say: You need to leave where I was standing. I asked why and heard the voice repeat their statement. I then asked whether the speaker had heard what Councilman Masters had said and that I was waiting to be recognized. The voice which, I later learned, was that of the City Attorney said that I’m going to have the police officer escort me out.

When I returned to my seat and began to sit down, the officer said I had to leave the council chambers. Having believed that once I left the dais that the matter was resolved, I was shocked. Not wanting to create a scene and believing that a reasoned conversation with the officer could result in my return to the council chambers I left the council chambers.

In my conversation with the officer it became clear he was not going to allow me to return to the chambers, I asked him who had directed him to remove from the chambers. That is when I learned the voice was the City Attorney’s. When I had a chance to search the internet for the recent Minnesota Supreme Court Ruling regarding behavior by citizens at public meetings, I found the following:

How a Chair Brought Down Minnesota’s Law Against Disturbing Government Meetings
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE | SEPTEMBER 14, 2017 By Matt McKinney

It’s no longer illegal in Minnesota to disturb a public meeting, the state Supreme Court has ruled, reversing the conviction of a Little Falls woman who was charged with disorderly conduct for protesting before the City Council.

The 54-year-old law was deemed overly broad and potentially criminalized free speech, the court ruled Wednesday.

“I feel like justice was finally served,” said Robin Hensel, whose refusal to move her chair at a 2013 Little Falls City Council meeting was at the heart of the court’s decision.
Hensel, a grandmother and peace activist who frequently protests at Camp Ripley, said she never thought she would actually get charged when she moved a folding chair to the open space between the public galley and the City Council’s dais.

“All I wanted to do was sit there quietly within eyeshot range of them and look them in the eye so that their conscience would be pricked,” she said Wednesday. A video of the incident shows that it was peaceful and that she eventually agreed to leave the chambers with an officer of the law.

In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court sided with Hensel, saying: “The statute is broad and ambiguous, prohibiting any conduct or speech that ‘disturbs an assembly or meeting,’ whether expressive or not. An individual could violate the statute by, for example, wearing an offensive t-shirt, using harsh words in addressing another person, or even raising one’s voice in a speech.

When I read the full article, it became crystal clear that what happened to me tonight was not within the legal power of the City Attorney, who is not an employee of the council, and was also outside of the powers granted to the City Council.

What happened tonight felt like I was living in authoritarian city and state. I hope no one ever has to endure what I endured this evening and that St. Cloud citizens will express their disappointment and outrage with the behavior of the City Council and City Administration.

A little while ago, I received a phone call from Dr. John Palmer. Dr. Palmer informed me that he’d just been kicked out of the St. Cloud City Council meeting after attempting to speak about Costco’s proposed purchase of land on the west end of St. Cloud.

Dr. Palmer is putting an article describing what happened. I will publish that article verbatim when I receive it. I won’t edit it. I want LFR readers to learn what happened that led up to this tyranny. Before he started writing his article, though, Dr. Palmer wrote this email to the St. Cloud City Council:

I guess I should have insisted on my 1st amendment rights even thou I was not disrupting the meeting. Maybe next time I should toss a chair?

I do believe I am owed a public and formal apology. I was waiting for the council members to finish their discussion as suggested by my 1st Ward councilman when I was ordered to leave and given no reason. Each council member present could have defended my rights but you ignored the unlawful actions of the city attorney. When you read the post regarding the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on public meetings you will understand my reference to chair tossing.

As a citizen of the City of St. Cloud, I am offended by your failure to act to protect a citizens rights. This was not the Administration’s meeting; it was your council meeting. What message did your inaction send to the Citizens of St. Cloud. You lost the opportunity to be better informed by not allowing me to address the council regarding the sale of the Heritage Park land. I followed your rules respectfully, listened to Dave Master’s wise counsel and then was removed from the council chambers. What are you afraid of that prevented you from allowing a citizen to exercise their constitutional rights. What choice did I have in the face of unreasonable use of police force? Based on what was happen nothing would have prevented an escalation of police action. What would you have done if the officer started to handcuff me and perp walk me out of the chamber? I certainly did not want the trouble of having to defend my rights in a court of law or spend a night in jail and that is why I did not stand my ground and assert my rights. Just because people in authority can abuse their power does not mean others should allow this to happen.

Here’s the article written about the court case to which Dr. Palmer is referring. Here’s the part pertinent to Monday night’s tyrannical actions:

It’s no longer illegal in Minnesota to disturb a public meeting, the state Supreme Court has ruled, reversing the conviction of a Little Falls woman who was charged with disorderly conduct for protesting before the City Council.

The 54-year-old law was deemed overly broad and potentially criminalized free speech, the court ruled Wednesday. “I feel like justice was finally served,” said Robin Hensel, whose refusal to move her chair at a 2013 Little Falls City Council meeting was at the heart of the court’s decision.

This ruling is directly on point to what happened with Dr. Palmer Monday night.

This isn’t the first time Council President Lewis has ignored the Council’s rules. She ignored the Council’s rules during the Nov. 6 meeting when she adjourned the meeting while an open motion still hadn’t been voted on. She adjourned the meeting after getting upset with City Councilman Jeff Johnson.

If Council President Lewis thinks that the gavel gives her unlimited authority, which she apparently thinks, she needs a refresher course in civil rights. Her actions were those of a tyrant, not of a public servant.