Seth Brigham's $10,000 payment for dropping trou: Did it influence Boulder decorum rules?
Seth Brigham's nipple-baring appearance at a Boulder City Council meeting in February to (sort of) protest a proposed nudity ordinance that would have banned female nipples displays led to Brigham's arrest -- an action that recently cost Boulder $10,000. But did it also impact proposed new decorum rules written in the wake of Brigham's bust?
Seth Brigham under arrest.
"I would hope so," responds Judd Golden of Boulder's American Civil Liberties Union branch. "I hope they realized that the legal basis under the rules was not very sound constitutionally."
The proposed decorum guidelines put forward by council members George Karakehian and Lisa Morzel this summer included passages like this one:
While in attendance at a council meeting, no attendee shall disrupt, disturb, or otherwise impedes [sic] the orderly conduct of any council meeting by any means, including by uttering loud, threatening, or abusive language, making any personal, impertinent, contemptuous, unduly repetitive, slanderous, or profane remarks, nor engaging in any other verbal or physical disorderly conduct that. [sic] Disorderly conduct includes without limitation shouting, jeering, clapping, whistling, stamping of feet, disrobing, wearing a mask or material of any kind that obscures the face of the person, boisterous conduct, or other acts which disturb, disrupt, or otherwise impede the orderly conduct of any meeting, Disorderly conduct also includes failing to obey any lawful order of the presiding officer to be seated, leave the meeting room, or refrain from addressing the council, board, or commission.
Shortly thereafter, Golden sent a letter to council -- see it in its entirety below -- arguing that the new dictates were excessive. The Boulder city attorney's office subsequently contacted Golden directly, asking for more details about his objections. Then, less than two weeks after Boulder agreed to pay $10,000 to Brigham, who was represented by prominent attorney David Lane (previous clients have included Ward Churchill, Tim Masters and Richard "Balloon Boy Dad" Heene), city attorney Tom Carr confirmed that the decorum rules had been revised.
In a memo to city council quoted by the Boulder Daily Camera, Carr wrote, "The intent of that language was to allow the mayor to bar individuals whose conduct disrupted the meeting. Included in the language were a number of examples of such conduct. When taken out of context, the examples could be construed to imply that individuals could be removed for the content of their speech. This was never the intent."
Golden, who's seen the revisions and signed off on them, is pleased by Carr's conclusions.
"The original draft said, 'You can't engage in personal attacks,' and then it changed to, 'You can't address council members of staff individually,'" he notes. "But what exactly are you trying to accomplish? If you want to individually criticize or commend a council member, what's the problem? If you're saying, 'I think this council person is wonderful and doing a great job getting the potholes fixed in my neighborhood,' should that be subject to sanction? You have to uniformly enforce rules, and to only say that negative things are proscribed doesn't make any sense."
Golden has no problem with rules meant simply to maintain decorum at meetings, "but the devil's in the details," he points out. "And we're pleased they sought not to include those terms that I think would have given them a lot more latitude to deal with the content of people's speech -- which is what got them in trouble last time with Mr. Brigham."
Page down to see Golden's original letter criticizing the first decorum draft: