The ACLU of Minnesota sent a formal letter to members of the St. Cloud City Council, its mayor and its city administrator today, strongly urging members to comply with the Constitution.
The City Council moved its public comment period, which was held during a council meeting, to after the meeting adjourns. These public comments would not be telecast or recorded in the minutes, either.
Council Member George Hontos wrote a letter to the editor of the St. Cloud Times Aug. 14 pointing out that changes like this would reduce council members’ ability to represent their constituents and be a “detriment to citizen input.” The council later voted by “secret ballot” to censure him.
In its letter, the ACLU-MN urges the Council to immediately amend certain Rules of Conduct and rescind Hontos’ censure. The Rules of Conduct require council members not to “undermine” policies passed by the majority or “belittle” the minority vote, and to “praise in public and critique in private.”
“Taken together, these rules appear to cast a broad net of censorship over council members’ exercise of free speech about public issues. As such, these rules are likely unconstitutional because they are overly broad and they restrict expression based on message, ideas, subject matter, or content,” wrote ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney.
“Council members have a constitutional right to engage in public debate on issues that impact the public and by definition, such debate involves disagreement, opposition, and criticism,” the ACLU wrote.
The ACLU-MN is asking the City Council for a written response.
The ACLU-MN is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org.