Just months after being warned that his new City Council meeting procedures are unconstitutional Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer has doubled down on their enforcement.
At the June 20 Charlottesville City Council meeting, Signer unjustly exercised his unwarranted police powers at least twice and in doing so, clearly has violated the United States Constitution.
The first instance involved, citizen John Heyden, who dared inquire about the Council’s vote to give more than $250,000 of taxpayer monies to Barack Obama’s Organizing for America adjunct, Virginia Organizing, without an opportunity for public comment. (n.b. Virginia Organizing is headed by Joe Szakos, husband of Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos, who recused herself from the discussion but obviously was delighted when the measure passed.)
When Heyden persistently questioned the lack of public input on the issue, Mayor Signer ordered a reluctant Charlottesville Police Officer to remove Heyden from the chambers. Mr. Heyden passively resisted. And although the city’s directorially edited broadcast video leads viewers to the conclusion that Heyden was, in fact, removed, exclusive Schilling Show footage below shows that he remained.
Things did not go so well for citizen Joe Draego.
In the first public comment segment of the evening, Draego, again warned the Charlottesville City Council about an imminent Islamic threat to Charlottesville and the nation. In doing so, he graphically referenced a recently reported Twin Falls, Idaho story in which Muslim refugee boys brutally assaulted a local five-year-old girl.
Draego was interrupted by councilor Kristin Szakos, who without authority and in violation of the Council’s own rules censured the speaker for his choice of words. Draego vigorously defended himself from Szakos’ attack, but she succeeded in derailing his comments and diminishing his speaking time. (See video below for interaction between Draego and Szakos.)
At the meeting’s final public comment segment Mr. Draego returned to continue his remarks on the dangers of Islam. Shortly after commencement, a visibly shaken Michael Signer interrupted Draego and asked him to cease, citing a violation of Council rules that prohibit “defamatory” speech against “groups or individuals.” Signer then requested a vote of council to “remove” Draego and the other councilors affirmed the request.
Referencing his First Amendment rights to free speech, Draego continued, at which time Signer summoned police to the podium to remove Draego, who had assumed a prostate position. Two Charlottesville Police officers then removed Joe Draego from the room. (See Draego’s remarks and removal below.)
On March 9, 2016, Rutherford Institute President and Founder, and noted civil liberties attorney, John Whitehead, admonished Signer and the Charlottesville City Council in a memo entitled, Re: Council Meeting Procedures Passed on February 16, 2016.
In his well-documented warning to council, Whitehead specifically referenced Signer’s “defamatory attacks” provision as “viewpoint discrimination” and therefore contrary to the United States Constitution:
Council also has declared that “improper comments . . . are not permitted,” including “vulgar language” and “defamatory attacks on individuals or groups.”
Plainly, these terms are ambiguous and vague, vesting the Council with a power of censorship that violates the First Amendment. A fundamental constitutional principle is that laws and rules must not grant unfettered discretion to a governmental person or entity to determine what may or may not be said in a public forum. Vesting the government with standardless discretion gives it the power to discriminate against unpopular viewpoints. This is precisely the danger to the rights of citizens created by the “improper comments” rule; the words “vulgar” and “defamatory” are so ambiguous that there is a real danger that Council could use the rule to silence speakers for viewpoint discriminatory reasons. Indeed, this rule would have a chilling effect on speech of legitimate relevance to a public meeting as speakers seek to avoid making “improper comments.”
This threat of censorship is contrary to the First Amendment because it allows for censorship of speech by government officials on the basis of disagreement with the speaker’s message. [emphasis added]
Whitehead was not the only critic of Mayor Signer’s speech curtailment. Community activist, Nikuyah Walker called the rules an emerging “tyranny.” And local attorney, Jeff Fogel, who has legally challenged Charlottesville City over several violations, was highly critical of Signer’s rules, classifying him as “reminiscent of an authoritarian.”
Delusionally fashioning himself as a modern-day James Madison, Signer has defended his draconian rules during a public discussion on their implementation as something that Madison would have endorsed.
Signer’s façade of control is exhibiting stress cracks, as several citizens whose rights were abridged by the mayor and his council are seeking legal redress. In the meantime; however, under the effective dictatorship of Mayor Mike Signer, Charlottesville city hall has become a totalitarian police state where a viewpoint-centered “no-speak zone” is ruthlessly enforced and the First Amendment is merely an afterthought.