Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson is taking heat from residents over what some contend is an authoritarian style that breaches the law. Two residents earlier this month filed a lawsuit against Nelson, contending she violated the state’s Open Meetings Act on three occasions in the past year.
See complaint here.
A day after the suit was filed, on April 3, Nelson ordered that local gadfly Kit Billups be removed from a city council meeting after he overstayed his welcome — supporting comments slamming the mayor, by clapping.
“We are not going to clap,” Nelson said during the meeting. “I want to make sure that we create an environment that’s not intimidating for folks. If that’s not something you can abide by, that’s fine, you can leave now. If we have to call you down on it again then I will ask an officer to escort you out of the room. The reason we don’t do that is because this is a business meeting. We’re here to receive comment and do it in a way that is respectful to everyone. It can be intimidating if someone does not agree with your comment…. If you do want to agree, you can silently hold your hand up.”
When another local activist called Nelson’s point of view a First Amendment infringement, Billups, along with others, applauded.
Nelson asked her foes to leave, and they complied. Billups went the hard way — hands cuffed behind back, officers at his elbows. While some agencies report Billups was arrested, no charges have yet been filed, according to Potter County court records.
Now, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt vows to investigate Nelson’s actions. In a letter to Nelson this week, the lawmaker said he “was astonished to learn that a governmental entity in the State of Texas has a policy prohibiting even limited spontaneous reaction to public commentary. For that policy to be expounded to the point of arresting a citizen of the public for clapping and failing to stand at the request of the presiding officer causes grave concerns for the constitutional protections guaranteed to the public.”
Tinderholt, R- Arlington, vowed that as a member of the House Government Transparency and Operation Committee, he will ask his colleagues to check out the incident for possible procedural issues.
It is preserved on video as part of the city’s meetings archive.
“I will encourage my fellow committee members to look into this matter and determine if any violations have occurred. I will also be exploring the idea of whether any legislation needs to be filed to prevent so-called ‘clapping policies’ in local government meetings in the future,” Tinderholt wrote.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].