Press release: Town Council President opposes Constitutional free speech
Contact: Jesse Gordon, 617-320-6989 firstname.lastname@example.org
Randolph Town Council President James Burgess disallowed a resident of Randolph from speaking during the "Public Speaks" segment of the Town Council meeting on Monday, August 17. Burgess has long sought to diminish "Public Speaks" by allowing the chairman to block speakers at his discretion -- but Burgess has long been unsuccessful in changing that rule, because doing so would be unconstitutional. Burgess has been unable to establish a rule of "president's discretion" to block speakers, so now, Burgess has begun unilaterally blocking speakers at virtual meetings by turning off their Zoom microphone, in a clear breach of the Constitutional right of free speech.
"I came to the Town Council meeting on Monday to inform the Town Council about our petition called 'Resolution on Town Council President’s Decorum,' calling for Burgess to step down because of his recent bullying and stretching of the rules for his personal benefit," says Jesse Gordon. "By blocking me from speaking, Burgess demonstrates exactly the sort of bullying and stretching the rules that our petition complains about!" Gordon lodged a formal letter of complaint this week regarding this action; the letter appears below.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution includes the right of free speech, and has applied for 250 years to government forums, such as the Randolph Town Council's "Public Speaks" segment. Federal courts have repeatedly upheld the right of citizens to speak at public forums, even when the government disagrees with the content of that speech. "Of course Burgess didn't like what I was saying," notes Gordon, "but that's the purpose of the First Amendment -- to protect free speech when those in power don't like what you're saying!"
Recent federal court rulings against President Donald Trump indicate that "president's discretion" in blocking free speech is unconstitutional. Trump chose to unilaterally block Twitter responses when people opposed his Tweets, and a federal appeals court ruled that Trump was forbidden from blocking users based on their political views, because Trump's Twitter account had become a "an official channel of communication."
Gordon cites that case against the Council President: "In 2019, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Trump can't block free speech at a public forum like his Twitter account. That means Burgess can't block free speech at a public forum like 'Public Speaks'." President Trump is appealing that case to the Supreme Court, on grounds that his Twitter account is a private forum, but no such rules apply to Town Council meetings. "Maybe Trump can block disagreeable Twitter posts because it's his own private forum, but Burgess cannot declare the Randolph Town Council as HIS private forum! The 'Public Speaks' segment is Randolph's most important public forum," notes Gordon. "Burgess cannot decide who gets to speak like it is a private forum, limited only to those who agree with him."
Gordon adds that the President Burgess exhibits an ongoing pattern of lawlessness during his time as Town Council President. "Burgess bends the rules by cutting off fellow Councilors from speaking, and by walking out of meetings when the votes go against him, and he breaks the law by making appointments that simply ignore all rules. Our petition is about that patten of misbehavior, and that Burgess should step down as President because he is unwilling and unable to respect the rule of law."
The petition is available at www.JesseGordon.com/Petition/ and a corresponding online petition is at https://www.change.org/p/randolph-town-council-demand-the-resignation-of-council-president-james-burgess -- both will be presented again to the Town Council at their next meeting, if Public Speaks is allowed. If not, the signed petition requires the Town Council to hold a full hearing on the matter in the next month, but, Gordon concludes, "we need your signature to make that happen!"
Aug. 19, 2020
To the Town Council --
I am hereby filing a formal complaint for being disallowed from speaking in the Public Speaks segment of the Aug. 17 Town Council meeting. The Town Council President provided a false rationale for disallowing me to speak, to avoid his own personal political embarrassment.
I sent to the Town Council Clerk a copy of a "Petition to Town Council" that we intend to submit shortly -- the Town Council Clerk is the recipient of all petitions to town council specified in the Town Charter. I emailed her the petition as a "heads-up" since I will have to make an appointment to submit the paperwork, and she will have to meet with the Board of Registrars to schedule a "signature certification count." I did the same process in the past when submitting a "Petition to School Committee," and of course I spoke at a School Committee meeting to announce the petition to the public. That is what I was seeking now -- to inform the public about the existence of the petition, so they could find a copy and sign it.
The petition calls for the Town Council President to step down as president. The Town Council President is certainly aware that announcing the petition at this meeting -- at which he read two letters from fellow Town Councilors asking him to step down -- would greatly assist in getting the number of required signatures. Indeed, that was a key component of our planned publicity, and not speaking will delay the submission of the petition. Clearly this was the Council President's motivation, and has no legal basis except to maintain his political power.
The Town Charter outlines the rules for how a petition is handled AFTER it is submitted. There are no rules about speakers about the petition BEFORE it is submitted. Speaking about the existence of the petition, and speaking in favor of (or against) people signing it, is clearly "free speech" and is the purpose of the "Public Speaks" segment of Town Council meetings. The Council President's actions were clearly unlawful.
The Council President can oppose our petition -- we expect him to do so! -- but shutting out the voice of the public is simply un-American. I suggest the following remedy:
· Post our petition on the Town Council website, in a form that the public can download and sign.
· Include our download link, www.jessegordon.com/petition/
· Include our petition in the Minutes of the Aug. 17 Town Council meeting, in full, so that people can read it and decide whether to sign it.
· Have the Town Council Clerk read the petition at the next Town Council meeting, to publicize it, if we have not yet submitted the required number of signatures.