Vice mayor blues

A recent proposal to ban members of the public from City Hall prompted yelling in its chambers

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the August 2, 2018, issue.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg antagonized activists and free-speech proponents last week after the city considered temporarily banning people from council meetings if deemed unruly.

Steinberg, who’s been arguing with public speakers from the dais, was notably absent for the backlash that ensued against his fellow council members on July 24. Steinberg’s no-show left Vice Mayor Steve Hansen to bear the brunt of angry protests, even as he resisted calls—at least for a time—from Councilwoman Angelique Ashby to cut the meeting short.

Hansen pulled the decorum policy from the agenda after telling The Sacramento Bee that it was too vaguely worded. The measure would have allowed council members to ban people from City Hall for up to 90 days if they found their words abusive or threatening. Steinberg’s office said he was on a long-planned vacation on the East Coast. That didn’t stop Sacramentans from packing the chambers to express concerns about the measure being proposed in the first place.

“You’ve proposed rules about kicking out your community members because they’re exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Elizabeth Kim, president of the National Lawyers Guild’s Sacramento chapter. “I understand that local politics is not easy. I understand that these meetings are not pleasant; sometimes we’re impolite, but it comes from a place of pain.”

Ben DuBerry presented the council with a cease-and-desist order on behalf of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, alleging Steinberg was violating the Brown Act by constantly stopping people from speaking during public comment.

“During the last year, I’ve been dismayed to observe an effort by this body, specifically Mayor Steinberg, to suppress public comment and discourse,’ DuBerry said. “I see this as part of a broader national trend toward more authoritarianism and less democratic modes of governing.”

Not everyone chastising the council was that diplomatic. After Hansen had activist Brazzey Liberty ejected for refusing to yield the podium, a woman identifying herself as T. Whitney tried to give her allotted time to Brazzey, which wasn’t allowed.

“You just re-started my time after I caused a significant disruption and broke all the rules of your chamber,” Whitney shouted. “Your hypocrisy sucks shit, Steve!”

That outburst prompted Ashby to motion to end the meeting all together. But Hansen wouldn’t support her motion.

“Let’s try to resolve this,” Hansen told Ashby. “I think in the interest of the people who are here, if we can get order back in the chamber, we will continue.”

Following the exchange, members of the audience repeatedly scolded Ashby for starring at her cellphone as the drama continued.

“You all have had quite the day without Steinberg in the building, right?” Keyan Bliss observed from the podium.

After an hour and 18 minutes of public comment, a spell of yelling from the audience prompted Hansen to finally close the chambers while there were still people waiting for an open spot at the podium.