City of Amarillo converses on decorum during council after 'clapping' incident

City of Amarillo converses on decorum during council after 'clapping' incident
Source: KFDA
Source: Kip Billups Facebook
Source: Kip Billups Facebook

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Although today's Amarillo city council meeting was well attended, public comment was not allowed.

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In what Mayor Nelson called a rarity, there were no agenda items scheduled or public comment, only a work session.

The council used the majority of this session to discuss code of conduct from citizens during all parts of the meeting.

This comes after an Amarillo man was arrested at last weeks city council in what those in attendance are calling a 'clapping controversy.'

Mayor Nelson said council originally planned to revisit the decorum in May, but moved it up to elaborate on rules in place and see if any changes should be made.

"Whatever is needed to make sure we keep civility and decorum and respect for everybody," said councilman Eddie Sauer. "I think that is more protection for the people that are speaking then is ever protection for us."

The discussion comes after a homeless advocate, Kip Billups, was arrested at city council last week for clapping during public comment.

Mayor Nelson said clapping was not allowed in order to establish an environment that's not intimidating for citizens in attendance.

"There's still a first amendment here and there's a right to free expression and to address the government for grievances and that's what he was doing and clapping is not a crime at a city meeting, it's just not," said Ryan Brown, attorney at Brown and Blackburn, who is representing Billups probono.

The city of Amarillo's attorney, Mick McKamie, spoke on Texas Penal Code Section 42.05 saying it's a state law that punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $2000 fine if one has intent to disrupt a lawful meeting.

"He's not been charged yet, I think they're going to charge him with disrupting a meeting a class B misdemeanor," said Brown.

The rules of decorum state that any distracting, defaming, intimidating, threats of violence, booing and hissing and similar behavior is banned.

Councilwoman Hayes stated the one item not on the list was clapping.

"Also not on the list is waving your finger at your noise, but it's similar behavior," said Mayor Nelson. "What we learned last week in the policy is flipping it. Should we list everything or should we pullback into a broader discretionary policy?"

According to council, it's the mayor's discretion to set the ground rules for public comment at a meeting.

They're unable to take action during a work session, but said this discussion can help define rules already in place.

The meeting is expected to return to usual next week with a work session that allows for public comment.

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