CEDAR RAPIDS — The Police Department is recommending that the City Council consider creating a new city “criminal trespass” ordinance to make it easier to ban a person from city property who has created a disturbance at City Hall or other city building.
The proposal comes just two weeks after City Hall critic and past City Council candidate Robert Bates vented in the City Council chambers immediately after a special council meeting, yelling at Mayor Ron Corbett and others.
Another City Hall critic, Lisa Kuzela, is scheduled to go on trial in November on a charge of simple assault after a June incident at City Hall when she is accused of striking Sandi Fowler, assistant to the city manager, in the face. At the time, Fowler had picked up a phone to call police after Kuzela allegedly had become disruptive.
Acting Police Chief Bernie Walther told the council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday that existing state and city ordinances are in place to arrest someone who disrupts a public meeting.
What is lacking, he said, is the ability of the city to ban someone from city property who has been disruptive on city property. He said the county prosecutor has told the city that he did not think state law allowed the city to ban someone from city property, but the city attorney has concluded that the city can create an administrative procedure with due process under city law to do so, the police chief said.
The proposed new ordinance would allow the city manager to direct the police chief to conduct a hearing with a disruptive person and then recommend if the person should be banned from city buildings and property for a period of time. The proposal would require that such a ban be off specific duration and not forever, Walther said.
He noted that cities in Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Mexico and North Carolina have put similar local ordinances in place.
City Council member Justin Shields, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, on Monday said the committee is not interested in denying anyone’s right to speak freely at city meetings or on city property. However, Shields said the city needs to make sure it protects the health and safety of its employees.
“There are just some things that some people go way too far with and they think that’s OK, where they can threaten, intimidate and do everything under the sun because they think they have that constitutional right,” Shields said. “… One way or another we will be trying to get some of the behavior corrected.”
Council member Kris Gulick, a member of the Public Safety Committee, asked Walther if the city really needed this new city “criminal trespass” ordinance or if existing laws already are in place that are sufficient. Walther didn’t think the existing laws gave the city the ability to keep someone off city property for a period of time.
Robert Bates on Monday said he didn’t care what the City Council tried to do as long as they don’t infringe on a person’s right to speak freely.
“Who defines what disruptive behavior is?” Bates asked. “If you don’t like what I say, is that disruptive? The First Amendment is there to protect unpopular people who make unpopular comments. If I raise and lower my voice to make points, is that disruptive behavior? What if I look at him and stare at him in the wrong way? Where does it stop?”