Letter: Ordinance is 'solution' looking for a problem
To the editor:
Monday night, Red Wing City Council took up Ordinance No. 115, triggered by the recent Minnesota Supreme Court's Hensel decision. That decision held that the law defining conduct that "disturbs an assembly or meeting, not unlawful in its character" as disorderly conduct was unconstitutional, "a serious overbreadth problem."
Here, the city has decided to consider an ordinance of its own with language that puts the city on the wrong side of the law. Why would the city want to do this?
The discussion was good — I'm grateful members raised constitutional issues, the First Amendment, and its broad definitions. One said, "We'd instructed staff after we got information," the city attorney had been instructed to draft the ordinance. "We were asked to address this."
By whom? It's not gone through committee process. The packet's item 9B was a memo from Roger Pohlman, chief of police, requesting a motion to introduce the ordinance. Councilor Dean Hove noted that there haven't been disruptions for years, since back when the council met upstairs! Others, including the city attorney, noted that in addition to city policy, there is applicable law.
Only part of the disorderly conduct statute (Minn. Stat. 609.72) was held unconstitutional, and parts remain, including "engages in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others."
Why use council time on this non-issue, particularly where the city has policies in place regarding disruption? What was most concerning were Chief Pohlman's reasons for requesting this ordinance.
First, he noted that police use of force practices limit what level of force may be used, and "if individual becomes passive, resistant" this ordinance was back up to use force to remove someone. He raised this issue of level of force twice.
The other claimed justification was liability issues if someone claims injury when removed, that it's "difficult to use policy to support our case."
This is an issue?
As Alan Muller was quoted in your article, "people disrupt meetings — people behave aggressively — when they feel that behaving politely and with restraint isn't working." Council President Kim Biese cut off Muller's statement just as he was finishing. In my own experience, I've been shushed by Biese for objecting when my ash mining clients had no opportunity to speak before the council approved that scheme.
I've also been ordered removed from a St. Croix Falls/Taylors Falls joint Council meeting by then Mayor Lundgren for merely asking a question, raising a financial corruption issue, in a public comment period. Lundgren was later charged and plead guilty to theft and misconduct in office.
Sometimes being heard requires standing up.
A primary outcome of the Red Wing Citizens Assembly was recognition that the City Council needs to be welcoming, transparent, that the council must listen to citizens, and welcome public engagement. Ordinance No. 115 is a visible step in the opposite direction
Carol A. Overland