The language used by a controversial City Hall gadfly has a handful of Louisville Metro Council members seeking to change the rules for public comment at meetings.
For years, Connie Marshall, a former candidate for mayor, has used the lectern at public meetings to riff about different conspiracies against her, often in explicit terms.
Those speeches have made some council members uncomfortable.
During a May 22 council meeting, Marshall again alleged that authorities were tracking her.
She described receiving death threats and used a number of racial epithets and curse words when outlining those accusations.
You can listen to Marshall’s May 22 City Hall speech here. (Warning: the audio contains explicit language.)
Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, says the coarseness of Marshall’s language has escalated over the past year. She is worried other residents will think that type of language is acceptable at public meetings.
“I don’t want us to open the door to other people to think they can do it,” Scott said. “This is definitely not about being threatened. This is about profane language.
“I am offended by her use of the N-word and to me it borders on hate speech.”
Scott and fellow Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, voiced concern at a caucus meeting last week. They have asked the county attorney’s office to look into ways to prohibit profane language during a public comment period at council meetings.
Under council rules, speakers who sign up with the clerk’s office are allowed to address the council for as many as three minutes. Those individuals must wait for the passage of five consecutive council meetings before they are allowed to address lawmakers again.
The council meetings, including public comments, area broadcast as part of the Metro TV station’s coverage. Council meetings also have at least two uniformed Metro Police officers who provide security.
Currently, the rules prohibit residents from engaging in “profanity” or “disruptive behavior.” Speakers are also forbidden to address an individual council member during their remarks.
ACLU of Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke said the civil liberties organization is monitoring the situation closely. She questioned the wisdom of the council adding more restrictions to free speech based on one individual.
“I do think it’s a bit concerning when we start talking about creating policies or laws that are directed at one particular individual,” said Duke. “Generally when we’re talking about free speech issues we have concerns that once you start limiting the speech of one person it opens the door for the speech rights of all of us to be limited in some way or another.”
Scott is asking for the county attorney to further define inflammatory language and to include racial epithets directed at African-Americans.
Scott and Ward-Pugh are looking at ways to limit a person’s ability to speak before the council, including physically removing those persons from City Hall.
That sort of action doesn’t sit well with the ACLU.
“We think when folks have concerns about hate speech or speech that they find offensive, the initial reaction is often to try limit that speech,” Duke said. “And while that is well-meaning, sometimes it’s not the right response.”
A spokesman for council Republicans said their caucus is reserving judgment before commenting and would like to see a formal request first.