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ACLU deems Trafford public speaking rules 'unlawful'

| Monday, Sept. 3, 2007

Trafford residents will likely see a more open public comment format at council's regular meeting Tuesday after a councilman filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union, which deemed the rules "unlawful."

"Whatever they tell us we have to do, we'll do. If the ACLU thinks the rules are wrong, we will change them," said council President Rita Windsor. "We were just trying to maintain order. You can't have a disruptive meeting."

Earlier this month, Councilman Brett Lloyd, along with some other residents, filed complaints with the ACLU, charging the borough's "Simplified Rules for Public Speaking" limited their freedom to talk at public meetings.

ACLU staff attorney Sara Rose said there were about 10 complaints from Trafford about the rules for public comment, which include the prohibition of comments on "political or personnel-related matters." The agency felt these rules "violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act that are plainly permitted by the Act."

Rose requested that the borough immediately rescind the "Simplified Rules" and allow residents to comment on any matter permitted under the Sunshine Act at public meetings.

"I had a conversation with their solicitor, and he said council will distribute a new set of rules about speaking during a meeting that do not violate the Sunshine Act at their Sept. 4 meeting. We will check to see if that is done," she said.

Councilman Frank Bruno said Lloyd voted in favor of these rules, which were passed in March 2006.

"These rules of order were passed by council in 2006. Brett not only voted for these rules, he seconded the motion. The rules have not changed since that time," he said.

Lloyd countered that the "Simplified Rules" passed out at a council meeting earlier this month are not the same edict passed 18 months ago.

"They changed the wording in the 'Simplified Rules' to give them more broad authority to determine the topics that a citizen can speak about. The ACLU will take action if they do not change the policy. I'm told the borough is complying, so why would they comply if the policy is not in violation of the law?" he said.

Windsor and Bruno said they felt Lloyd's actions were "political" because he and his wife, fellow council member Gina Lloyd, lost bids for re-election in the May primary.

"There is no doubt about it. As president, I have to keep control of a meeting. There is not going to be chaos. That's why we did this," Windsor said.

"This is just Brett's latest attempt to cause chaos. I'm sure there will be many more to follow ... and as always, we will set the record straight to the end," Bruno said.

The councilman said the borough had no choice but to comply with the ACLU's request.

"Unfortunately, our town has had to suffer because of this. We don't want to do anything to infringe on anyone's rights. But we still maintain the right to control order at meetings," he said.

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