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4/13/2009Texas: City Councilman Arrested for Opposing Red Light Cameras
Duncanville, Texas mayor silences anti-camera councilman by having him arrested.
The mayor of Duncanville, Texas had a member of the city council arrested last Tuesday for speaking out against the use of red light cameras during an official meeting. The incident took place during the discussion of whether the city should spend $59,000 to make street repairs. Mayor David Green recognized Councilman Paul Ford to speak on the contract item.
"Thank you," Ford said. "I want to let you know that earlier this evening during briefing, Mayor Green threatened me that if he told me to stop talking and I didn't, he'd have me arrested, and I want to let you know what I told Mayor Green."
Green became outraged and shouted, "Mr Ford, you are out of order. You are not recognized Mr Ford. You need to cease right now."
While Green yelled, Ford continued his brief statement without stopping.
"Unlike those thousands of people who are getting red light camera tickets, I will have the opportunity for a jury trial. It will be a jury of my peers and I will confidently put my fate in their hands. And now I'm going to discuss agenda item number three. I will vote against it, and here's why."
Before he had a chance to explain that the city could find the money for those necessary street repairs by cutting the city manager's salary from $179,000 to $160,000 and reducing payments to local chambers of commerce by $40,000, Police Chief Robert Brown grabbed Ford. Ford repeated several times the statement: "Chief Brown, I will not leave voluntarily, but if you believe I am violating the law by discussing this agenda item, I will submit to arrest."
Brown did not respond. Mayor Green had the audio of the city council video tape turned off as Brown dragged the councilman out of the chamber. Ford ended up hospitalized from injuries sustained during the arrest.
Ford's comments referenced an earlier, private briefing of city council members where the mayor complained that Ford had attempted to "take control" of past meetings. To stop this, Green announced that he would instruct the city manager to remove any council member who disrupted a meeting. Over the past few council sessions, Ford raised the mayor's ire by insisting that the city code be amended to allow motorists the option of a jury trial when contesting red light camera citations and by his pointing out that only five percent of the 43,955 red light camera tickets issued in the city went to motorists accused of the straight-through violations most consider to be "red light running."
"I'm not the one who brought the red light camera scandal to Duncanville," Ford responded at the private meeting. "I'm the one who brought it to light, but I'm not the one who imposed it on us... I recognize that there probably is no city employee in this room who will stand up to you guys... Unlike those people who are getting red light camera citations, I will have an opportunity for a jury trial when you arrest me for whatever it is that you've discussed, whether it's disrupting a public meeting or disorderly conduct. I will have a jury trial, and it will be a jury of my peers, not yours. In other words, people who are not getting money from this city. And I will with conscience place my fate in their hands."
Mayor Green's expulsion of an elected member of the city council violated standard rules of procedure. Under Robert's Rules of Order, the binding code of conduct for most municipal organizations, Green would not have any authority to have Ford removed for making off-topic comments that lasted less than thirty seconds. The use of force to remove a member is considered an extreme measure and a last resort.
"Although the chair has no authority to impose a penalty or to order an offending member removed from the hall, the assembly has that power," the Rules state.
Under this set of procedures, a mayor would first have issued a warning to an unruly member and, if ignored, put the question of what to do about it to the entire city council. A majority vote would be required to have a sitting member removed from the chambers after that member is given an opportunity to speak in his own defense. Under Duncanville's city charter (2.15), only the full council can change the rules of procedure, not the mayor acting alone.
Ford has been released from the hospital but the mayor had a warrant issued for his arrest. Ford announced yesterday his intention to turn himself in. Since March, Ford has attempted to gather 1300 signatures to create a referendum on the red light camera program in Duncanville.
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