Local activist challenges Portland mayor's, city's right to exclude him from … – OregonLive.com
If you’ve attended a Portland City Council meeting in the last several years, you no doubt have heard local activist Joe Walsh speak up, bluntly telling commissioners or the mayor what he thinks of them and their policies.
He’s apt to raise his voice or throw in some foul language to make his point.
On several occasions, he’s been escorted out of council chambers.
Walsh can handle that. But what he refuses to accept is the mayor’s and city of Portland’s move to exclude him from council sessions and City Hall for 30 – to 60-days at a time.
Now, he’s taken his case to a federal court judge.
Last week, Walsh urged U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon to issue a restraining order against the city of Portland to prevent the mayor or another city official from excluding activists who the city considers have been “acting inappropriately.”
Walsh is also seeking a permanent injunction against future exclusions, citing his First Amendment rights to free speech, assemble or petition the government to seek a redress of grievances.
In a July 15 notice, the city excluded Walsh from City Hall for 60 days, citing his “pattern of purposeful disruption and interference with the normal operation and administration of City Council meetings.” Bryant Enge, director of the city’s Internal Business Services signed the exclusion notice. It marked the third time he’d been excluded from council meetings since Sept. 17, 2014. The two prior ones lasted 30 days.
City attorneys cited the city’s right as a property owner to exclude him from its properties as a result of his disruptive activities.
They filed with the court transcripts of council meetings, highlighting in yellow Walsh’s words, as well as the mayor’s admonitions for him to be respectful.
At a January 2014 meeting, for example, Walsh told City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, “You are a disgrace as an American citizen,” contending her mind was made up before hearing citizen testimony about whether to grant Hempstalk a permit to hold its event in a city park. Hales intervened, saying, “Joe enough..” and at one point, told Walsh that he was out of order. “No, you’re out of order!” Walsh shot back.
During a March 2014 council meeting, Walsh took on Commissioner Dan Saltzman, blasting an ordinance he proposed that altered the criteria for a loan fund used for affordable housing investments to include economic development closely associated with affordable housing developments.
“My name is Joe Walsh, I represent Individuals for Justice. This would almost be comical if it wasn’t so disastrous,” he began, arguing that the money should be used solely to help low-income families. “We’ve been telling you for years that you are acting in a corrupt manner and this is the highlight. It takes $2.4 million and builds a new office building for a nonprofit that is supposed (to) help the people that need it the most is outrageous. Just outrageous. It pisses me off. And excuse my French. Irish.”
By the end of the session, Walsh yelled to the council, “You’re all going to jail,” and the mayor asked for someone to escort Walsh out.
By July 8, 2015, after another shouting match between Walsh and Hales as Walsh sought to testify about an agenda item that the council had already moved past, the mayor excluded Walsh from council chambers. “Sir. you’re going to be asked to leave and then you’re going to be excluded. You’ve been there before, so you need to,” Hales said.
“Yes, I have! Go ahead, sir,” Walsh taunted.
“You’re excluded then, another 60 days,” the mayor ordered.
Walsh, in court records, wrote that he’s not challenging the mayor’s authority to order him out of a meeting. What he’s challenging is the mayor’s ability to exclude him or others from future meetings.
“There seems to be no limit to what Mayor Hales thinks he can do. That is not democracy; It is dictatorship,” Walsh wrote in court records. “Government officials cannot ban or exclude citizens from meetings because they might be disruptive or may act out in ways that annoy the officials. The chilling effect on other activists is immense.”
Walsh, 73, was a chief union steward for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 229. He retired in 1995 as a utility supervisor at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.
The city stands by its exclusions, saying Walsh was not thrown out because of any point of view or opinion expressed, but because he was disruptive repeatedly. Since early 2014, Hales has reminded the public to use “basic decorum” in council chambers just prior to the public testimony portion of the meeting.
Deputy city attorneys argued that during the exclusions, Walsh still could watch council proceedings by live video online and submit written testimony to the council clerk ahead of time.
“The City welcomes diverse viewpoints at Council meetings. However, attendance at Council meetings requires attendees to follow the rules of order and the limitations that the Council imposes so that meetings can run efficiently and orderly,” the city’s exclusion notices read.
The city further argued that Walsh will be subject to future exclusions only if he violates the city’s rules of conduct.
Lastly, the city asked the court to throw out Walsh’s federal claim, calling it moot since his latest 60-day exclusion ran out on Sept. 15.
Judge Simon is expected to issue a ruling next month.
— Maxine Bernstein