Thursday, June 14, 2001

Mayor lays down law on speaking

Invitation-only on agenda items

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a Cincinnati Council meeting from which four people were removed by police, Mayor Charlie Luken laid down a new rule Wednesday for public speakers he hopes will restore “decorum” to oft-times rowdy council sessions.

        As the presiding officer of council, Mr. Luken said he would allow members of the public to speak about council agenda items only if they are invited to do so by a council member. Speakers on nonagenda items still have to wait until the end of the meeting.

        “If people had respected the rules of council, we would not have had to act so harshly,” said Mr. Luken.

        Council meetings in recent months have seen dozens of occasions when speakers — often the same ones week after week — have been ordered removed from chambers for shouting, making threats and racist comments or interrupting other speakers.

        Council had been operating under a rule that members of the public could fill out speaker cards and address council about agenda items.

        But Mr. Luken changed that rule Wednesday.

        Wednesday, the police sergeant who handles unruly speakers at council meetings was joined by three uniformed police officers. They had a busy afternoon.

        As Mr. Luken was explaining his rationale for the rules change, he asked police to remove a frequent speaker, Abdul Muhammed Ali, after he began coughing loudly during Mr. Luken's remarks.

        “For coughing?” Mr. Ali shouted, as he was led outside council chambers. “I've had a cold for four days.”

        William Kirkland of the Cincinnati Black United Front was ejected by Mr. Luken after questioning why a representative of the Over-the—Rhine Chamber of Commerce had been allowed to speak to council with the new rule in place.

        “I'll see you out at your house and other council members,” Mr. Kirkland shouted at Mr. Luken. “You are a punk and a coward.”

        Two African-American ministers — Stephen A. Scott and James W. Jones — were ordered removed from council chambers as well, one for shouting from the back of the room and the other for going to the speaker's lectern without having filled out a card.


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