Two speakers were removed from the Mobile City Council meeting Tuesday, July 21, as councilors contemplated changes to the rules allowing public presentations to the body.
The debate began when, during a pre-conference meeting, City Clerk Lisa Lambert announced outspoken resident Reggie Hill had signed up to deliver presentations to councilors on a number of agenda and non-agenda items.
Councilman John Williams, chairman of the body’s rules committee, said he was against what he called “a broad application to speak to council.”
“Those ‘just anything that sticks to the wall’ applications … really need to change,” he said. “We need to say you’re going to have to pick one [topic] and be specific.”
Allowing speakers to continue to vaguely reference what the topic of their presentation is could result in confusion among councilors and the administration, Williams said.
“Being absolutely surprised by Mr. Hill is getting old,” he said. “It’s not fair to the administration, it’s not fair to us and it’s not fair to the general public who have to listen to him ramble on and on.”
Following the pre-conference meeting, Hill said he felt his First Amendment rights were being infringed upon. He said he’s frustrated at the rules that force presenters on non-agenda items to sign up the Thursday prior to Tuesday’s regular meeting because the agenda itself isn’t released publicly until Friday.
“If they can’t gather information from Thursday to Tuesday, then there’s something wrong with the office,” Hill said.
In the four years Hill said he’s been speaking in front of the council almost every week, officials have only responded to him four times. One of those times, he said, was Friday, following a council meeting on police reform, when Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste spoke to him.
Despite the call for future rules changes, Hill was allowed to speak and given five minutes to do so. However, when he finished speaking he sat down at the back of the auditorium by himself, but didn’t put a face covering back on.
Councilman Fred Richardson called Hill out for not putting the face covering back on and told colleagues the body was “setting a precedent.”
“I believe what we’re going to have is people lining up outside the door to speak and then coming in without a mask,” he said. “Nobody is allowed to stay in here without a mask.”
At that, Council President Levon Manzie asked everyone at the meeting to put a mask on. When Hill refused to put on a mask he had in his possession, he was escorted out of the meeting by Public Safety Director James Barber.
Hill argued Gov. Kay Ivey’s mask order allows for the removal of masks in public spaces if the would-be wearer is greater than six feet from another person outside their household. According to Ivey’s website, Hill is correct. Following the meeting, Barber confirmed Hill was removed from the meeting over a “council rule” on masks.
“This is a faith thing to me,” Hill said while in the atrium of Government Plaza. “I want to know what law they’re basing this on. A city ordinance does not supersede state law.”
Hill returned to the auditorium to collect his belongings and left the building.
When asked why he decided to have Hill removed for repeatedly refusing to wear a mask, Manzie said he felt it was the right thing to do.
“Wearing a mask is not only to protect us, but to protect staff and citizens,” Manzie said. “As long as we’re in this situation, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for that to be an expectation.”
Councilors also heard from Gil Lambert, who signed up to speak on an agenda item, but raised questions about policing practices, which was not on the agenda.
Despite violating council rules, Lambert was allowed five minutes to speak. He also complained to councilors about rules on presentations. When his time was up, councilors responded to him. He responded back, but was asked to take his seat because council rules dictate presenters can’t debate councilors. After refusing to take his seat, Lambert was removed from the meeting.
Manzie said miscommunication led him to allow Lambert to speak, technically violating council rules in the first place.
The issue of presenters speaking to the council will be debated at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, WIlliams confirmed. He said he would like to see the rules tweaked to limit the amount of time councilors are allowed for rebuttal. There is currently no time limit. Williams would like to limit it to three minutes.
“We shouldn’t be allowed to tell someone to sit down and then berate them,” he said. “It’s disrespectful for someone to go on and on and on, to the citizen and the council.”
If a councilor wants to hear from a presenter for longer than five minutes, Williams said, the councilor could ask to waive the rules and the waiver could be voted on.
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