The Richmond City Council bizarrely considered a motion to ban clapping at the March 18th city council meeting.
The strange motion came about in light of a large rally of community members, building-trades union members, and Chevron employees who came to the meeting to express support for the Chevron refinery modernization project.
Participants started clapping in support of public speaker comments supporting Chevron modernization following the long and storied tradition at council meetings of applause and audience participation of expressing support or disdain.
Councilmember Tom Butt, appearing angered by the time he felt it would take to get through all the 28 speakers that had signed up, made a motion to ban clapping. He said while some may value the tradition, the council should not become a “talent show.” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, an open critic of all things Chevron, asked the audience to hold clapping to the end. Councilmember Nat Bates immediately objected, stating “this is still the USA!" as mayor moved to vote to forbid 300 people from applauding.
A lengthy, drawn out discussion then took place between the Council and City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller over what type of participation the audience could engage in. Goodmiller stated if the activity "disrupted" the meeting, the Mayor could forbid it. Councilmember Corky Booze reminded the City Attorney that he had previously told the Mayor “clapping” was fine when her own RPA members engaged in the activity at previous meetings. The Mayor at that time had been fine with the outbursts. Goodmiller, not taking a stance on whether “clapping” constituted disrupted the meeting--urged the Mayor to continue the meeting.
When speakers drowned out Butt as he brought up the motion again, Butt raised his voice into the microphone just as the microphones were cut off and the Mayor called an immediate recess. In an unprecedented move, the Mayor directed police to escort the crowd outside of the chambers. The council then proceeded to continue discussing decorum in the meetings, the legality of keeping out the public, and whether to let the crowd back into the chambers.
Eventually, with Councilmembers Bates, Booze, Myrick, and Rodgers supporting it, the council resolved to let everyone back in on the understanding the Mayor could remove any “troublemakers” who were to vocally disruptive. The council then heard the remaining comments supporting Chevron modernization without any further complaints by Butt or the Mayor.