From Jack Burrell’s view, Francis Paul Ripp has had plenty of opportunity to speak before the Fairhope City Council.
“There’s been numerous times that I’ve let him go over the three-minute limit even if he was sitting up there wailing away on me,” Burrell said. “I’ve let him go. Numerous, numerous times.”
But not this time. On Aug. 28 Burrell, the Fairhope City Council president, asked if there were any public comments before the meeting was adjourned. Ripp, an active resident, blogger and political activist, stood up to come to the podium.
“Mr. Ripp, I’m not going to allow you to speak,” Burrell said before Ripp came forward.
“Really?” Ripp responded, before being escorted to his seat by Fairhope Police Chief Joe Petties.
On Dec. 28, he responded in another way. Ripp has filed a suit in the United States District Court, Southern District, alleging Burrell denied him his First Amendment rights to free speech and his 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
He is suing Burrell as a city official and individually for “humiliation” and “emotional pain.” Ripp said he was unsure what the next step in the lawsuit would be and has hired Craig Morris to represent him in the suit.
“In pursuing the lawsuit, I had the option of suing the city or everybody involved,” he said. “Or, the person that was responsible. That’s what I chose to do and that’s why the suit is directed at him because he is the one that was responsible.”
His suit alleges Burrell didn’t follow the rules of procedure like he would with any other citizen and singled out Ripp.
“The video speaks for itself,” Ripp said. The Fairhope City Council livestreams its meetings on YouTube, where they are also archived. The Aug. 28 exchange occurred just after the 1-hour mark.
“There are no ‘buts’ in the Constitution,” Ripp said. “The council, the city attorney, everybody was present when they sat there and did that and nobody said a thing.”
The issue was addressed in The Ripp Report blog on Dec. 29 in a post with the headline “SEE YA IN COURT JACK.”
“This is the first time Ripp has sued the city of Fairhope over refusing to allow him to address the City Council,” the post said. “The city had denied him in the past, several times, the ability to speak at public meetings, forcing the council to adopt a new set of rules regarding public participation. These are the rules City Councilman Jack Burrell ignored when he allegedly denied Mr. Ripp … his constitutional right to free speech.”
Burrell, who said he has yet to hire legal counsel, said Ripp’s blogs have ripped into city officials, workers and citizens and he has done so at council meetings on several occasions. He was not given the chance on Aug. 28.
In fact, Ripp also filed a state ethics complaint against Burrell over a lease the Fairhope Airport Authority awarded to Ray Hix, a Federal Aviation Administration board member, and his business partner, Haymes Snedecker, who also serves as the city’s municipal judge.
“He’d been saying a lot of hurtful things about people,” Burrell said Dec. 31. “And it wasn’t even about me. I’ve been putting up with his antics for five years and always allowed him to speak. But he started spreading innuendos about employees and other people, people that serve on committees for the city and I know that those people are very hurt by those comments and I didn’t want it to continue.”
On Aug. 28 Burrell told Ripp he had lost the right to speak before the council because of his previous comments and postings on his blog.
“You’ve relinquished your rights, it’s a privilege,” Burrell said at the time. “I’ve had more complaints about you getting up here and spreading innuendo, talking about citizens, employees and council members. Most of the people I’ve talked to don’t want to give you time, so … Chief Petties, will you show him to his seat.”
After no one else came forward to speak in the public comment portion, the meeting adjourned. But not before Mayor Karin Wilson weighed in.
“I’m sure everybody felt comfortable coming up after that,” the mayor said. “I’ll stay afterward if anyone wants to talk.”
(Photo | Lagniappe) Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell was named in a federal lawsuit for denying a member of the public a chance to speak at an August council meeting.