By John Orona
During a meeting in which the Pasadena City Council promoted fundraising for civic and patriotic institutions, City Hall was grounds for its own messy civics exercise in how far free speech reaches after two speakers continually used profane and offensive language during public comment periods.
The two speakers, identified as Mr. Herman and William Goat on speaker cards, were also at last week’s City Council meeting, where they called Councilmember Steve Madison a “pencil neck” and referred to Councilmember Victor Gordo as “El Gordo,” Spanish for fat.
Mayor Terry Tornek opened this week’s public comment period by reading from a prepared statement on civility at council meetings.
“We have rules of decorum and expect that speakers will abide by them and ask that we all treat each other with respect and dignity,” Tornek read. “However, consistent with the First Amendment, we cannot require that speakers refrain from using words that others of us might find offensive,” Tornek said. “Please don’t hesitate to leave the room if you become offended.”
A public speaker in the audience did appear to get offended at one point, standing up, waving her arms and shaking her head at the council after Mr. Herman repeatedly used a homophobic slur to refer to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The pair made comments on nearly every agenda item but their remarks during an adopted ordinance that would waive facility fees for organizations determined to be civic or patriotic prompted several councilmembers to seek remedy from the city attorney after they used the N-word, homophobic and racist slurs, and suggested the Klu Klux Klan would be welcome in Pasadena under the ordinance.
Madison, who began the meeting by affirming the sanctity of the council and said, “there is a line past which one cannot cross in this sacred chamber,” by the end of the night determined that “the problem is the record may not reflect that these guys are mentally unstable cretins.”
William Goat, a man with long white hair and a goat puppet on his hand, questioned whether city officials had the right to determine what constitutes a civic or patriotic organization without discrimination. The city was sued in a First Amendment case last year after the Pasadena Republican Club claimed its free speech was violated when the club’s event was cancelled, allegedly due to their religious views on same-sex marriage.
Gordo and other councilmembers asked City Attorney Michele Bagneris to look into what can be done about the two citizens’ decorum.
“We have individuals at our council meetings who are showing up and using words that I personally find offensive,” Gordo said. “Now the First Amendment is one thing — and it’s important and we should always defend it — but some of this language is intended to incite and I’d like to understand from the city attorney at what point the line has been crossed.”