Public comments were once again difficult to control during Anniston’s City Council meeting Tuesday, so much so that one resident was escorted away from the podium by police after causing a disruption.
Ralph Bradford, an Anniston resident and frequent speaker at council meetings, was escorted by Anniston police Chief Shane Denham and Capt. Nick Bowles away from the podium after running over his three-minute time limit. Mayor Jack Draper tried to enforce the limit — visible to the entire room on a large digital clock with red numerals — by asking Bradford to sit down for a number of seconds, while Bradford shouted over Draper’s entreaties to respectfully end his speech.
Only an hour earlier, the council postponed a vote to change its public comment policies by dropping formal public comments from meetings altogether, and reserve time at the end of meetings for informal public comments. Overlong comments have stretched some recent council meetings as long as two to four hours.
Ironically, Bradford was presenting a U.S Supreme Court case from 2018, Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, which he claimed was about a man who arrested while speaking at a local city council meeting. Lozman was eventually proven to have had his First Amendment rights violated, Bradford said, before being removed from the microphone.
According to the Supreme Court’s opinion on that case, however, that arrest was part of pattern of intimidation directed at Lozman as retaliation for an earlier lawsuit — not the muting of an unpopular opinion.
Frequent commenter Glen Ray also spoke, ending his comment at the three-minute mark. Clay Gresham, another resident, shared a contest through CableOne and encouraged residents to vote for Anniston Middle School to receive a $3,000 grant from the company. He said votes will continue through part of Wednesday, and votes are taken online at cableone.net/contest. Gresham’s comment, which included handouts and a repeat of the website address, only took about a minute and a half.
The council considered removing public comments from meetings in 2011, after an alleged fistfight between council members. At that time, whether to scan visitors with metal detectors was also being considered.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council also:
— Voted to hire Lehr, Middlebrooks, Vreeland & Thompson, a Birmingham-based law firm, to represent Anniston in an apparent investigation of claims brought by City Manager Jay Johnson against Councilmen Ben Little and David Reddick for racial discrimination, according to a memo released to The Star by Reddick.
— Purchased two trucks from Sunny King Ford; one, a 2019 F-150 XL SuperCab for the Anniston Museums at $25,053.54 and another, a 2019 F-150 SuperCrew Cab for Parks and Recreation for $27,240.42.
— Purchased a 6000 PSI compression system for the city Fire Department for $36,284.76.
— Approved retail beer and wine licenses for Mini Market Plus 2 on Highway 431 and Model City Market on Noble Street.
— Approved a special event license for the Noble Street Festival on April 13.