LIVINGSTON — After strong public opposition arose, the Livingston Parish Council took no action Thursday on a proposal to limit public speech at council meetings.
The proposal by Chairman Randy Rushing still can be brought up at a later meeting. It would limit speakers to three minutes, require them to submit speakers’ cards no later than two minutes after a meeting starts and put other restrictions on public comments to the council. It would also allow only council members to have items put on the agenda.
“We need to get some stability in the meetings and get some control,” Rushing said in proposing the ordinance.
A string of speakers from the audience disagreed.
“We paid for this building,” Hugh Harris said. “We paid for these microphones. We have a right to speak.”
Harris said he doesn’t feel he should have to get a council member to put an item on the agenda or should be limited to three minutes to speak.
James Camp said he rode a motorcycle through a pouring rain to address the council in support of free speech.
“I stand here wet head-to-toe because I wanted to address this item,” he said
“The ordinance tonight will prevent me from speaking if I am two minutes late,” Camp said.
Gerald Coleman advised the council to “be careful where you tread because the people of this parish will not put up with this council limiting their rights.
“Do not attempt to limit your constituents’ right to free speech,” he said,
Tarin Creekbaum, a regular speaker at council meetings, said the current rules are sufficient if they are enforced properly.
No other chairman has had a problem presiding over the meetings, she said.
“Replace Mr. Rushing as chairman rather than replacing Robert’s Rules of Order,” Creekbaum said.
Councilman A.C. “Buddy” Mincey defended the chairman, saying Rushing has been wrong sometimes, but that Rushing has done “about as good as anybody could under the circumstances.”
Mincey conceded there were “some meetings that have gotten pretty rough.
“I am ashamed of the way some of our councilmen and some of our constituents have gotten out of line,” Mincey said, but he added that he doesn’t think Rushing’s rules are necessary.
“I don’t think we need this ordinance,” he said. “All we need is just a little respect for each other.”
Henry Harris, another member of the audience opposing the proposal, said he can’t live with ejecting a council member from the meetings.
At the previous meeting, Rushing called security personnel to eject Councilman Marshall Harris, saying Harris had strayed from the agenda item.
However, Rushing relented after security reached Marshall Harris’ seat and members of the public began to jeer.
Thursday night, Rushing said he has been bashed by those who said he wouldn’t allow people to talk at meetings, but that he took such action only after they had made “four or five trips to the podium.”
He said Thursday night’s meeting went well, but predicted problems will arise again.
Councilman Ronnie Sharp said he wasn’t ready to vote on the proposal Thursday night because he hadn’t had a chance to read it.
“I make a motion that we don’t introduce this motion,” Mincey said of Rushing’s proposal.
Council attorney Blayne Honeycutt told Mincey that wasn’t necessary and the item would die for lack of a motion.