Thursday, February 14, 2019

Rules of Decorum? Council president clashes with resident at meeting


Soon after borough council passed rules of decorum, the council president broke those rules by using an expletive and telling a resident to "knock it off."

At the February 12 Columbia Borough Council meeting, Council voted unanimously to adopt protocols and rules of decorum for public meetings, with minor changes. A copy of the draft document is HERE, and one particular aspect of the document is notable:



A little over half an hour later after the vote, however, decorum gave way to emotion, when resident Frank Doutrich began this exchange as he commented on borough finances:

Doutrich: "It looked to me like John [Novak] and Todd [Burgard] is the only two was awake at the budget."

Council President Kelly Murphy: "You know what, Frank, that's really . . . that's uncalled for, and I'm not going to listen to that . . . that's . . . If you want to give your opinion, that's fine, but to sit there and say the others didn't think about it, that's just bullshit, so just knock it off. I get tired of it."

Doutrich: "What did I say wrong?"

Murphy: "You're - you're accusing everybody else of . . ."

Councilman Cleon Berntheizel: "Of sleeping. "

Murphy: "We're the only two that, they're the only two paid attention. [Councilwoman Pam Williams interjects, but is unintelligible on the recording. ] You have no idea how hard that position is."

Doutrich: "I guess I meant that, Pam."

Murphy: "You have no idea . . . "

Williams: "[unintelligible] . . . that was a terrible decision to make."

Murphy: "You have no idea how hard that decision was to make and how many days and how many people I've talked to as well."

Doutrich: "You're right,  I didn't, I don't know that, because I didn't get the financial reports to back that up."

An important parallel to note is the recently decided US Supreme Court case LOZMAN v. CITY OF RIVIERA BEACH, FLORIDA in which a council president had citizen Fane Lozman removed from a public meeting essentially because she didn't like the content of his comments. Lozman was subsequently arrested and briefly jailed. The incident, which occurred in 2006, can viewed below, beginning at 0:31.



Lozman challenged the council's actions and ultimately prevailed at the Supreme Court after a 12-year legal battle. The Miami Herald published this article on the outcome of the case, which states, in part, "Lozman became consumed with his First Amendment fight for people like him who are thrown out of public meetings for needling elected officials."

Although the exchange at Tuesday night's meeting did not escalate to the level of removal or arrest of a citizen, the case should serve notice to public officials who attempt to push back on citizens speaking out at such meetings. (One hurdle for citizens, however, is that they must prove the municipality acted with animosity.) At the very least, Columbia Borough Council failed to follow its own rules of decorum.

22 comments:

  1. Well at least no one dropped the f bomb.

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  2. What are the consequences for disruptive council members?

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  3. Why should Mr.Murphy be allowed to use that kind of language at a public meeting when a citizen is asking a question time for this whole council to go the sooner the better in fact it can't be soon enough












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    1. After the meeting, I politely reminded the council president that,by law, he cannot shut Frank down just because he doesn't like what he is saying. Council president's reply: "I don't care." It's not up for debate, it's the law.

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    2. To be fair, in this instance, Frank was not asking a question, but badgering the council with attacks and personal insults. That kind of decorum is prohibited as well. Just saying.

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    3. The council president is a hot head ,he proves it time after time, step down you have given NO RESPECT AND WILL RECEIVE NO RESPECT FROM THE TOWN except coffee club people , some of who don't pay there own taxes , that's right and one is on council for now.

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    4. Keep up the good work Frank and Sharon. The truth is what the residents need to hear. Thank You

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    5. You're welcome, however I'm not looking for thanks, just truth and transparency. Too bad so many residents prefer being kept in the dark. I will always demand to know where my tax dollars are going, after all I worked very hard for that money. Four people decide how our money will be used, we should care more.

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  4. you mean Murphy can use that word and get away with it.

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  5. Although I was born and raised in Columbia ( no better place on earth! ) I feel the town has now earned a reputation of " small town, small minds" when it comes to governing.

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    1. That's what happens when the mayor and council THINK they are above the law, well the time is coming when they will find out.

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    2. Think about this , most of this stuff came after we got a consultant as a back door (Murphy pushed) manager. I for one don't see any good she has done, just hired too many employees and set the WRONG TONE here ,send her back to her own business and get some one who knows how to manage a boro , not just take other towns ideas. She should see that we CAN NOT AFFORD MORE MONEY PIT , she has the real accounts , not the ones to show and the old story that Columbia only has a small amount of money in the pit is bullshit , show us the real amount of time and money we put into that mess weekly and yearly. Just like the trail 96,000 people , come on , we were Not born yesterday , Lies lies lies , mayor , council , manager, or consultant, you all should wash out your mouths with real old soap and then keep them shut, you all did enough , we are known as the LAUGHTING STOCK thanks to all of you people.

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    3. I think the school system had something to do with the laughing stock thing!

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    4. So can we assume that the people complaining here are going to run for council? Then they can see firsthand what a hard job it is.

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    5. #foundthecouncilmember

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    6. Our council's hardest job is telling the truth, not hiding it.

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    7. school should go online, get rid of the dead wood on that hill. cut school taxes by 2/3.

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  6. #foundthecouncilmember - what does this mean? Enlighten me?

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    1. Basically if you agree with anything council says you get hit with a #foundthecouncilmember. My comment was hit with this the other day and I couldn’t even tell you who the hell is on Council. Cmon, you can’t agree with Council on the Spy , that’s means for deportation!!

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    2. #foundNate ^^^

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    3. The Council President can't use swear words and then try to enforce his stupid rules. Mr. Doutrich has every right to say what he wants in an open meeting. The council President cannot violate a taxpayers freedom of speech. These are the illegal things that have to be stopped. IT IS TIME FOR THE PUBLIC TO STAND UP AND FIGHT THESE PEOPLE. EVERY taxpayer should be livid. This council is TRYING TO TAKE AWAY YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS by making up their own rules. FIGHT PEOPLE

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    4. Agreed. People of Columbia, you need to go to ALL meetings and when you see the abuse these members of Government give, stand up. THIS IS OUR TOWN. Some of the people who THINK they are rulers don't even live in this town. There is and has been so much done under the cover of night/blankets which is now being uncovered. The council may want to check some of the laws being broken. Many people are. This all may take some time, but little by little it is being uncovered. STAND UP FOR YOUR TOWN and YOUR TAXES.

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