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

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.

6 Responses to “LFR exclusive: Dr. Palmer’s civil rights”

  • Dave Steckling says:

    Thank you Gary for this forum and allowing John to explain his ambush by Lewis henchman- an unauthorized city attorney. For the sake of the general welfare, all council members present tonite need to be ousted. Will all voters please contact their councilman and register your complaints.

  • Gary Gross says:

    Thanks for compliment, Dave. It’s important to stand up to tyrants. I can tolerate Hontos. After that, I’m unimpressed.

  • John Palmer says:

    Early this morning I got an Email from Council President Lewis stating “I did nothing to have you escorted out.“. She clearly did nothing to prevent a violation of my first amendment rights. To paraphrase a often repeated admonition, all it takes for bad behavior to persist is for good people to do nothing.

  • Patrick Mattson says:

    Is this the same Carol Lewis who was on the STC school board? I seem to recall there was a lot of “her way or the highway” during those years.

  • Gary Gross says:

    I’m not sure about that but this Carol Lewis ran against King Banaian for the HD-15B seat in 2010.

  • Gary Gross says:

    That’s the same Carol Lewis.

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