Congratulations to our very own Mary Fitch, who at the February 4 City Council meeting became the first person in our collective memory to be gaveled down while speaking from the podium, without so much as a polite throat clearing by the Mayor, much less a verbal request to wrap up!
Now, you might not think being gaveled down is something to celebrate, but in this instance, we sure do! Since Mary’s only offense was to speak a few seconds beyond her three-minute limit, we cannot help but find humor in the fact that Mayor Scott Gruendl felt compelled to use a hammer, rather than a gentle nudge, to tell Mary to wrap things up. And then, as if that were not enough, he busted his cool and scolded her, ending by saying, “That’s enough” and pounding the gavel a second time.
Here is the video clip – well worth a watch: Mary Gets Gaveled
As a reminder, each of the three of us behind Truth Matters, Chico! was employed by the City of Chico for over a decade. Counting two Council meetings per month over the course of my own 14+ years’ experience, that would amount to over 300 meetings during which I cannot recall a Mayor ever using the gavel as a way to say “time’s up.”
It is a rare circumstance, indeed, for the gavel to be used for anything other than procedural matters such as calling the meeting to order, closing a hearing, closing a public comment period, and adjourning the meeting. In those rare instances when the gavel is used to restore order, it is typically when an audience member is being disruptive and does not calm down after being verbally cautioned. In fact, I have witnessed many back and forth arguments, with raised voices, between speakers at the podium and councilmembers without the gavel being used.
So, Mary must have drastically taken advantage of her allowed speaking time to be gaveled down, correct? Nope. Mary exceeded her allotted 3 minutes by exactly 18 seconds (likely the equivalent of two sentences).
For an earlier post that I worked on, I did an accounting of speakers from the Business from the Floor section of the agenda. I pulled data for a year’s worth of meetings. From that information, I can tell you that on average, one person per month will speak at Business from the Floor for longer than 4 minutes. I also have documented speakers that exceeded 6 minutes.
But instead of looking at historical data, let’s just examine the remainder of the February 4 meeting…
As indicated above, Mary was abruptly gaveled down after 3 minutes and 18 seconds of speaking. Later in the evening, another speaker spent a total of 6 minutes and 41 seconds at the podium without the Mayor picking up the gavel. 3:18 = Gavel. 6:41 = No Gavel.
In the interest of full disclosure, and because it adds to the story, the citizen spoke for 3 minutes and 35 seconds before the Mayor respectfully interrupted, asked the speaker to wrap up, and then apologized. The speaker went on to talk for another 49 seconds before the Mayor again spoke up, APOLOGIZED AGAIN, and politely asked the speaker to finish. The speaker continued, and finally asked the Council to answer a question. There was a bit of back and forth and then the speaker continued on, providing some documentation in support of his concerns, for more than an additional 2 minutes. Total time 6 minutes and 41 seconds. No gavel.
The Chico News & Review even picked up on this oddity in an article published February 6. The article reports, “Rather than giving Fitch the gentle warning provided to most speakers who exceed the three-minute time limit, Gruendl abruptly ended her comments by slamming his gavel.”
Hmmmm, must have been something she said.
Let me take this opportunity to say, “Shame on You, Mayor Gruendl,” for allowing your emotions to override proper protocol and common courtesy, for discriminating against your constituents based on your personal opinion of what they have to say when addressing the Council, and in general for behaving like a petulant bully while cowering behind the shelter of the dais. Shameful.
We thank you for your continued readership and welcome your comments and questions. Nothing we do makes any difference unless we can get the citizens and taxpayers involved.