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According to quotes from this article, the St. Cloud City Council doesn’t like the First Amendment. This isn’t an opinion. That sentiment comes through loud and clear when Jenny Berg quoted Carol Lewis as saying “People were extremely angry with me for limiting time and number (of speakers). Now what if I limited topic? My point is we would have had a riot on our hands.”

The City Council already limits what citizens can talk about during open forum. According to the article, the “council’s rules of order state residents can speak at open forums for two minutes on topics not on the agenda. Refugee resettlement became a topic on the agendas when council members Jeff Goerger and Jeff Johnson asked to discuss resolutions during the discussion portion of the meeting.” Having watched the Oct. 23 and Nov. 6 meetings, I can state with certainty that Council President Lewis indeed limited the citizens’ speeches to subjects not on the agenda.

That’s a violation of the First Amendment, which states “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.” It’s well-established fact that the Constitution is a limiting document written to restrict the federal government. There’s nothing in the Constitution that permits the government, whether it’s a city council or the US Senate or anything in between, to tell its citizens what subjects it will permit. The First Amendment says that people have “the right to peaceably assemble” and “to petition the government” about its grievances.

The government is prohibited by the First Amendment from telling its citizens what they can’t talk about. This is telling, too:

Council member Dave Masters said he is in favor of the open forum, but wants a civil discussion. “Some of the speakers we’ve had recently I felt went over that line,” Masters said, saying some speakers attacked the City Council or specific members. He said he has an issue with people “grandstanding” in front of the camera.

A politician who has a problem with citizens grandstanding. Seriously? That’s rich. It’d be nice if we lived in a society where all issues were solved through civil discussion. That isn’t the society we’re living in. Further, the government can’t limit speech, even if it’s grandstanding speech. Then there’s this:

City Administrator Matt Staehling suggested the council consider moving the open forum to the end of the meeting so residents can talk about whatever topic they want, even if it was on the agenda. “It might be easier to manage,” he said. Staehling said some other cities allow people to register to speak at the open forum ahead of time with the city clerk; those people then have priority at the meeting.

Again, the First Amendment already gives people the right to “talk about whatever topic they want.” That’s addressed by the clause stating that citizens have the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The definition of grievances is “a wrong considered as grounds for complaint, or something believed to cause distress.” The definition of redress is “the setting right of what is wrong.”

The government can’t tell citizens that they can’t address something that’s causing them distress or worry. Government might state its preferences but it can’t enforce their preferences if their preferences don’t agree with the Constitution.

This is troubling:

Johnson said he had concerns with the council not following its rules of order for the past month, and was frustrated with how Goerger’s resolution “in support of a just and welcoming community” was presented to the City Council at the beginning of the Oct. 23 meeting and then voted on that night.

The Council didn’t follow its rules that night. The City Clerk admitted that Councilman Goerger’s resolution wasn’t included in Councilman Johnson’s packet of information for the Oct. 23 meeting even though it was received on the Thursday before the Oct. 23 meeting. That means Councilman Goerger’s resolution was intentionally hidden from Councilman Johnson.

BTW, that’s a violation of City Council Rule # 6, which states “All items of business before the Council for the first time shall be listed as new business or on the Consent Agenda with a notation indicating the item is new business. Official action may not be taken if any Council Person objects to action being taken on the item.” Councilman Johnson certainly objected to voting on Councilman Goerger’s resolution because he said he hadn’t had time to read it.

The rules don’t mean anything with Council President Lewis or to most of the members of the Council. Most of the City Council members just care about winning. If they have to break the rules to win, they’re ok with that.

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