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City Council Policy Draws New Criticism

September 15, 1998|ANDREW STEVEN HARRIS

A crackdown by Mayor Mike Markey on public comments at City Council meetings has further split a deeply divided council, with one of Markey's council allies voicing reservations Monday about how the new policy is being enforced.

Last week Markey began barring candidates or other members of the public from making campaign speeches or referring to the Nov. 3 election during the public comments portion of council meetings.

Markey said his position was supported by Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, who drafted a memo outlining the circumstances under which Markey could silence speakers.

Councilwoman Judy Lazar, traditionally a political ally of Markey, had trouble reconciling her concerns over the policy.

"I have slightly mixed thoughts," Lazar said. "I was uncomfortable with the way it was done. I'm not enthusiastic about curtailing the public's ability to speak."

On the other hand, Lazar said she does not believe the council meetings should be a forum for political candidates.

Critics, however, say Markey went beyond Bradbury's opinion and may have violated the state Brown Act on open public meetings, as well as the 1st Amendment.

"There is an obvious concern about freedom of speech," said Councilwoman Linda Parks, a political opponent of Markey.

"I question why you would want to clamp down on peoples' right to speak. I'm very concerned about that."

Councilman Andy Fox, who supports Markey's plan, described the policy as "a necessary evil."

"We were unhappy with the circumstance that was created, but I am just tired of the council meetings being turned into something other than a positive, constructive, open public forum where we're trying to do the business of the city," Fox said.

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