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April 08, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, April 08, 2005

What happened at the City Council What happened at the City Council (April 08, 2005)

The Feb. 7 exchange at the center of Aram James' potential lawsuit began when the activist addressed the council and criticized the way City Manager Frank Benest ran a recent council meeting and the city manager's opposition to outside police oversight.

"You can let that man let this police department run amok but the citizens ... " James started to say when the mayor interrupted him, saying he couldn't allow James to "attack" the city manager.

"I'm sorry, you're going to let me finish," James said. "I let you talk."

"Well, I'm the chair," Burch retorted.

"I understand I have the right to free speech, sir," James said louder. The mayor again accused him of attacking the city manager.

"I'm not attacking anybody, I'm exercising free speech!" James shouted, before asking if he could have his three-minute time limit restarted.

"You have two minutes and seven seconds," Burch told him.

"You can interrupt me but I can't interrupt you! ... I'm not attacking anybody," James said, his hands moving to his hips. "I'm talking about what's wrong with this city."

"You can say what's wrong with this city, but you can't attack ... " Burch said.

"Oh I can't?" "That's correct."

"No, sir. You're a citizen and the mayor and I'm a citizen. ... Now can I start my talk again or are you going to interrupt me? You don't interrupt anybody else, sir!"

"Not when they behave civilly."

"Ah, now wait a minute, sir! Don't you dictate to me what is civil! You let that woman, the chief," James said, pointing at Police Chief Lynne Johnson, "allow her police officers to beat up Albert Hopkins brutally! Jameel Douglas gets attacked! False confessions are extracted from citizens!"

The city manager then suggested taking a brief break. During the pause, council members and the city attorney surrounded Burch, all seemingly giving him advice. James sat down and complained to fellow police critics: "I didn't start that, he did."

When the meeting restarted, Burch allowed James to speak uninterrupted.

Suddenly calmer, James complained that the new police review board would have "no teeth" since it would be made up of members of the city's "hapless" Human Relations Commission, instead of attorneys like himself.

-- Bill D'Agostino

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