Town Council Worried about Public Speakers at Meetings

Bruce Evans delivers public comments at the November 8 Town Council meeting. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

November 12, 2012

The natives are restless, and Cape Charles Town Council is working on doing something about it.

The Council is holding a work session at 6 p.m. Thursday, November 15, to review “citizen participation guidelines” at public meetings.

The work session is open to the public but not to public comment.

As recently as last spring, Council’s biggest worry about public participation was that there was none.

At the March 2012 Council meeting, Vice Mayor Chris Bannon remarked that up until then, almost nobody had attended meetings other than Council and staff.

That was before word got out that Council planned to sell the old school and accompanying property in Central Park to a developer for $10. Town Council meetings have not been the same since.

The most contentious meeting was August 23, when Mayor Dora Sullivan directed police to eject four residents from the room.

Two persons were removed while speaking at the podium, and the other two were taken out for holding up signs.


Following that meeting, Town staff submitted “draft guidelines for citizen participation” to the Council. A local resident told the Wave that she had compiled the guidelines as a service for the Town.

Council decided to postpone the issue until now.

Now the Town staff have prepared an information packet for Council members, which may be read here. In the packet, the Town manager writes that “Guidelines adopted by other jurisdictions in Virginia were reviewed by staff for Council consideration and information/guidelines from the other localities are attached for review.”

But the first set of guidelines in the packet do not come from any other jurisdiction — they are the same suggestions Town staff first submitted in September.

The staff guidelines prohibit displaying signs or posters at a Town meeting. They also ban distribution of pamphlets within 50 feet of the meeting location.

The staff guidelines also prohibit applause at a meeting except during awards and presentations.

Speakers would be required to follow a set protocol: “Speakers shall state their position, give the facts to substantiate their position, and relate the concerns they believe the Town Council should consider.”

And finally, the staff guidelines stipulate that “Speakers shall refrain from political statements.”

The staff packet also includes guidelines from Onley, Williamsburg, Richmond, Vinton, Roanoke, Newport News, and Washington County.

One of the persons removed by police from the August 23 Council meeting was Deborah Bender, spokesperson for Old School Cape Charles. In a November 9 comment published in the Wave, Bender told Mayor Sullivan: “When I spoke out to Council at the August meeting and you didn’t like what I had to say, you had me escorted out by the police. You should have stopped Bruce Evans last night when he went on the attack.”

The Wave reported November 9 that former councilman Bruce Evans used public comment time to scold councilman Frank Wendell. Addressing Wendell, he said, “You must support issues whether you want to or not.” When Wendell demurred, Evans told him, “Shut-up.”

Readers who wish to be listeners may hear the Bender comments of August 23 and the Evans comments of November 9 by clicking on their names below:

Deborah Bender

Bruce Evans



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