More Mob Rule in Charlottesville

Charlottesville City Council loses control.

Charlottesville City Council loses control.

On Monday the Charlottesville City Council broke down in disorder. Sean Tubbs, reporter for Charlottesville Tomorrow live blogged the anarchy but the incident got little media attention otherwise. Louis Schultz, who attended the meeting to address the council, emailed me this account of the event. Although he did not write with the intention of having it published, I reproduce it here with his permission. — JAB

A large group of people fresh from a march on D.C. went to the meeting to talk about police contact with minorities, racial profiling etc. Their message was one that I wholeheartedly agree with. My viewpoint is general left/center with a few radical deviations in both directions.

Council allows for 12 people to sign up for matters by the public. Each is alloted 3 minutes to speak.

Wes Bellamy, an African-American high school teach and former City Council candidate spoke first. His time ended and he was allowed to go on for several minutes over time.

Second (pretty sure, but my memory may not be perfect) was a girl who said she was 12 years old. She spoke on a similar topic from her perspective as a kid. She also went several minutes over time with nothing but smiles from Councilors.

no_justice_no_peaceBoth Bellamy and the girl were loudly cheered on by the crowd including me, which, by the way, is not really allowed by Council rules.

John Heyden, a Council meeting regular, spoke third, maybe fourth. He at times asks interesting questions, but frequently couches them in racial terms that I think interferes with his message, which is never a popular one. I generally disagree with his position, even if I think the questions should be addressed. At the very least, I believe he ought to be free to ask them if he pleases.

As Mr. Heyden walked to the microphone, audience members who recognized him began to yell at him. Mayor Satyendra Huja very weakly tried to quiet that, but it quickly escalated as he spoke. He was completely shut down by yelling but he tried to speak over it and said he intended to finish. The crowd started to yell that his time was up even while time remained for him to speak. I did not participate in any of that, I thought it was way out of line.

heydenAs the three-minute mark arrived, Councilor Kristin Szakos (self described community organizing advocate and wife of Joe Szakos of the VA Organizing Project) started saying that his time was up. Mayor Huja also said that. Mr. Heyden tried to continue until he was finished and at that point, Mayor Huja called the police officer who is supposed to keep order at meetings to the front to take Mr. Heyden away.

Comments continued with many more people going over time, myself included. No one else was called out for going over time and no one else was taken away by the police. After the regular comment period ended, the mob essentially took over the meeting, with no effort by the Mayor other Councilors or the police to restore order. The mob took over for somewhere around 30 minutes.

I heard a snippet of a radio interview with Councilor Kristin Szakos on Monday. She said that she didn’t think the mob takeover was a problem since they said things Council needed to hear. No mention that I heard of what she did to Mr. Heyden.

December 15 2014 Charlottesville City Council meeting archive on video here.


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6 responses to “More Mob Rule in Charlottesville

  1. personally I think going over 3 minutes is boorish and offish and really not considerate of others.

    I like the Twitter realm. Get your ducks in a row – make your best points – succinctly and sit the hell down.

    Locally we have a fairly strict 3 minute rule, sometimes relaxed but not often and not when the room is filled.

  2. Been awhile since I’ve watched a Berkeley council meeting. Didn’t know they had moved to Virginia.

  3. Bezerkeley of the Blue Ridge….always has been……

  4. I’ve testified to the BoS in both Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. The Loudoun BoS strictly enforces its time limits, essentially allowing one to finish one’s thought. Fairfax Supervisors generally allow the same, with a little more tolerance for individual citizens. Both bodies respect a citizen’s right to say what is on her/his mind by politely listening and thanking them for the remarks. A speaker for an organization can expect questions (some pointed). I’ve heard both BoS remind the audience that it should respect the right of others to state their position without rude noises or remarks.

    This is the way it should be nationwide.

    • I support strict limits for the most part with some discretion under some conditions but when the room is full and lots of speakers – then treat everyone the same because if you don’t it will get out of hand – and yes – deputies will be needed.

      and I still think the points should be succinct and substantiative – and not duplicative of earlier points made.

      However – I also think the whole idea of a “hearing” in the 21st century needs to be re-thought.

      Some folks have good points to make – and cannot make the meeting and/or they don”t want to sit for four hours and listen to bullcrap…

      They can write a letter but then 1/2 the benefit of the “hearing” is lost because others cannot see the letter and typically the “record” is not provided until much later.

      Finally – in the online world – where we can now watch a meeting either in real time or archived video streaming – there should be a way for people to make their comments online and for all others to be able to scan through the comments of others.. The comments will have to be moderated – yes – but no more a cost than a deputy standing around .. and the BOS by not accepting online comments is missing some important feedback if nothing else – the numbers of people who are interested enough to make comments – as well as being able to search through the comments to find specific ones and to re-read them…

      Does anyone who reads here know of any govt bodies that accept online comments? I know the Feds will take comments on proposals that way but does anyone know of any local (or state or VDOT) govt that accept online comments?

      what’s the argument against online commenting?

  5. Sent these remarks/requests to Charlottesville City Council and copied to you City’s Human Rights Commission.

    The public has been shocked to see, and City Council may truly be concerned, regarding an apparent failure to protect the Constitutional rights of Mr Heyden in its chamber, under its authority, at its December 15 2015 meeting.

    Viewing a recording of the meeting – – the public observes possible violations of first amendment speech, equal protection, and due process rights. Certainly City Council has an interest that the public know how Council, in its chamber and in any other venue, during its meetings, ensures Constitutional rights of any and all persons.

    Observation of the conduct of the December 15 2015 meeting leads the public into uncertainty about Council’s commitment to protect any and all persons’ Constitutional rights. For example, the public observes that no audience members were removed, or threatened with removal by government force, for disrupting the formal process of the meeting; but Mr Heyden – who was participating in the formal process of the meeting – was threatened with removal by government force, and was removed. The public also observes that a person – who may be particularly vulnerable because of age – was being threatened from the audience and yet was not asked by Council about any concerns for accomodation and safety that he might have had.

    Please make a report to the public regarding Council’s plan to ensure anyone and everyone speaking in the City’s public meetings has every Constitutional right protected.

    Additionally, I share the following direct observations:
    I have been in Dialogue on Race meetings that included Mr Heyden. He stayed throughout the meetings and participated respectfully and appropriately in all activities of the meetings. Therefore I have observed that he has made significant and appropriate efforts to hear diverse points of view on issues of race relations, and to share his point of view, within a mutually agreed group process. I have observed that he had come with prepared notes, which is an exercise of self-reflection, and also a measure of respect for an audience to present effectively and efficiently and reasonably. I have been seated beside him in a small group, and I occasionally asked him – as a member of the small group – some questions to help understand his point of view more accurately and deeply.

    Without breaching any possible confidentiality I will say that Mr Heyden told a powerful personal story that revealed deeply moral reasoning involving the well being of families and communities. I was moved emotionally and morally by his personal story as I believe were others in the small group since others in the group, including myself, made supportive statements of caring having heard the story.

    I am copying this to the City’s Human Rights Commission for their reflection and action.

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