North Hills News Record
Friday, Sept. 10,1999
By Betsy Bethel
A West View Council candidate who was charged with disorderly conduct after raising his voice at a public meeting says he will fight for his First Amendment rights.
Jim Barr of Frankfort Avenue was charged Wednesday night with disorderly conduct and trespassing after he refused council President Daniel Daugherty's orders to sit down.
Barr, a Republican making his fourth bid for a council seat, was questioning thea council's methods of keeping meeting minutes when Daugherty told him the issue already had been addressed and to move on.
"I have the floor here, Barr said in a raised voice. At that point, Daugherty ordered him to take his seat on the grounds that he was out of order.
When Barr refused, Daugherty told police Chief Charles Holtgraver to escort Barr to his seat. Sgt. Tony Pusateri assisted. Barr refused to sit down, and Daugherty ordered police to remove him from the meeting.
"My understanding is you are allowed to say whatever you want in America, Barr said Thursday from his home. "If they limit you to what you can say, if they censor you, what use is the public comment period?
A council president generally has the discretion to decide whether a resident is being disruptive during a meeting, according to the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.
Daugherty said Barr was wasting council's time by bringing up a subject that already had been addressed.
"He's not been denied any due process whatsoever, Daugherty said. "I control the meeting, and I had explained to him we're not going to discuss this any further.... I'm not going to waste our time or anybody else that is up there time.
Barr has asked council members - both during public meetings and outside the meetings - why items he brings up at the meetings are not mentioned in the minutes. Solicitor Fred Baxter said the law requires the borough to keep an accurate record of the business done at a meeting and does not include public comments. Barr's comments are paraphrased in the minutes, he said.
of the Pittsburgh ACLU
However, the borough does not have written rules governing the public comment portion of the meeting.
"What council can do is establish reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the public comments. Some have a five-minute or a three- minute limit.
That way, if you've got someone that's a broken record, at least they will only take up three minutes, said Vic Walzcak, executive director of the Pittsburgh American Civil liberties Union.
"If there are no written guidelines, that in and of itself makes it unconstitutional to have "shushed Barr, Walzcak said.
Whether Barr was disorderly is a different matter, he said.
Holtgraver said Barr shoved Pusateri while Pusateri and Holtgraver were trying to get Barr to sit down.
Daugherty also said Barr pushed the sergeant, which is what prompted him to order Barr's removal. Barr said he did not push the sergeant.
Pusateri did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
"If you do something that's illegal, it doesn't make it legal just because you express some message that's protected under the First Amendinept, Walczak said.
He added, though, that the First Amendment should be a factor when the court considers Barr's case.
A hearing before District Justice Mark Devlin has not been scheduled. Barr said he plans to hire a lawyer
and fight for his and others' rights in West View.
"I want (West View council members) to let anybody that takes the time and energy to come to these meetings to be able to finish saying what they have to way whether (the council members) agree with it or not, Barr said.
Baxter said council's unwritten policy is that anyone can address the council on any issue as long as they "do it in an orderly and polite manner and it is not repetitive.
Walczak disagreed with that policy:
"Even if it has been said before, the guy has a right to say it."