Covered by Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell (live-tweets)
Cleveland City Council Members Stephanie Howse-Jones and Charles Slife both said they would vote no on legislation that would increase the penalty for disrupting “lawful meetings.”
The language–which wasn’t clearly defined–was included in a proposed ordinance council is considering that would bring the city code in line with new state laws. The penalty would increase from a fourth-degree to a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor can result in a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, according to Karrie Howard, the director of Public Safety. The change would only apply to religious gatherings. Howse-Jones called the language “problematic” and said the proposed change appeared to apply to gatherings at any location, even City Council.
Howse-Jones also highlighted that the ordinance allows a disruption to be defined as “any utterance, gesture or display which outrages the sensibilities of the group.” She said that one group could try to use this to silence another, resulting in legal charges.
Slife said he was concerned the legislation might violate the First Amendment. He gave the example of a past City Council meeting when a public commenter was cut off for hate speech. He said City Council was later told that they are not allowed to cut anyone off under the First Amendment.
Council Member Michael Polensek held the legislation so that the city’s law department could clarify the issues.
Angela Shute-Woodson, director of the Community Relations Board, said the board was unable to finalize a contract with the violence prevention organization Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance. Earlier this year, council approved an emergency ordinance for $300,000 to continue paying the Peacemakers Alliance employees. The group had been working for the city without pay for months.
Shute-Woodson said the city was unable to reach a new agreement because the Peacemakers Alliance lacked the staff to be in neighborhoods as the city wanted. Contract negotiations are still underway, and a new contract could come before council in the next few weeks, she said.