The speaker of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates had two public commenters muted and removed from an open virtual assembly meeting on Wednesday last week, September 2.
The incident occurred after the speaker, Yarmouth Delegate Suzanne McAuliffe, opened the meeting for public comment on a recall ordinance for the removal from office of a member of the Board of Regional Commissioners.
“I strongly support the recall amendment,” Muska Yousuf said.
Ms. Yousuf, an attorney, has been present and made public comments at previous delegate meetings.
“At the last meeting there was a motion passed to take out the words ‘impropriety’ and ‘misbehavior’ from the recall provision,” Ms. Yousuf said. “I just want to express my deep disappointment that you all voted to eliminate those words. Anything that gives an elected official more leeway to avoid accountability is problematic to me.”
Danielle Tobey, a Mashpee Wampanoag who was born and raised in Barnstable, agreed with Ms. Yousuf.
Ms. Tobey’s late grandfather was a Barnstable public official who previously worked with many of the current delegates.
“It is appalling that the language was changed to disclude misbehaving or misconduct, especially at a time when this country where there’s so much racial unrest, where we have Ron Beaty in office, who is inciting violence in the community, in particular to myself and my own family,” she said.
“I urge you to consider the repercussions to not having a recall amendment, to having someone that can’t be removed from office,” she said. “And like I’ve said several times, everyone in the community has the right to feel safe, psychologically and physically.”
Ms. Tobey began to express her concern that a delegate might have broken a stipulation in the Barnstable County home rule charter, which states that “no member of the assembly of delegates shall individually, or collectively, seek to influence the board of regional commissioners to dismiss, to appoint, or to promote any person to any position in the executive branch of the Cape Cod regional government.”
She began to say that Bourne delegate Linda Zuern publicly endorsed county commissioner Mr. Beaty, but was cut off by Ms. McAuliffe before she could explain herself.
“This is the time for public comment, not time for specific individuals,” Ms. McAuliffe said. “I’m warning you right now I run a very tight meeting and one of my rules is you respect each other. You do not go after each other at a meeting and I will apply that to speakers as well.
“I’m warning you Danielle, I’ve been known to mute and or remove people if they don’t follow the rules,” she said.
“That’s not my intention,” Ms. Tobey said. “My intention is to have some accountability.”
The speaker explained that the assembly is not responsible for policing one another and if a delegate does something to invite reprimand, it is the responsibility of the town to not elect them again in the next election cycle.
“Excuse me Suzanne, as I understood it to be…” Ms. Yousuf started to say.
“Excuse me Muska, this is not a debate,” Ms. McAuliffe said.
“Excuse me, please pronounce my name correctly if you’re going to talk to me,” Ms. Yousuf said. “It’s very disrespectful to not pronounce my name correctly as a person of color. So I want to say...”
“No you may not speak,” Ms. McAuliffe said and Ms. Yousuf’s microphone was muted.
Ms. McAuliffe attempted to move on.
“I just want to say that I feel silenced and I feel as if you are blocking me from saying what needs to be said,” Ms. Tobey said. “So I’m very appalled at how you run your meeting and how you’re blocking people from speaking, especially when we are speaking respectfully.
“I would support Danielle in her objection to being silenced,” Provincetown delegate Brian O’Malley said.
“Do not think that you can silence us here,” Ms. Yousuf said.
Ms. McAuliffe, addressing Ian Roberts of the county Information Technology Department, twice said, “Ian, will you please remove the persons disrupting the meeting,” before Ms. Yousuf and Ms. Tobey were virtually removed from the meeting.
The eyebrows of another public commenter, Rose Parkington, furrowed as she shook her head at the removal of the two women.
The speaker explained she has had back and forth emails with the two women and felt they were expressing their opinions in the manner they wanted to and not necessarily as it should be.
“I’m disappointed as to what just happened,” Ms. Parkington said. “I feel two voices were cut off in the middle of what they were saying. I understand that you had previous conversations with them, but it felt to me that you cut them off in the middle of what they were saying and kind of ridiculed them in front of this whole group of people during a public hearing.”
Ms. Parkington continued to speak, and Ms. McAuliffe cut her off.
“I never ridicule,” Ms. McAuliffe said. “That is how I run my meetings.”
Ms. Parkington attempted to explain what she was saying, but was continually cut off by Ms. McAuliffe.
“Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’m not running for reelection, so you don’t have to deal with me,” Ms. McAuliffe said.
“No, that’s not what I’m concerned about,” Ms. Parkington said. “I’m more concerned about people’s voices being shut down and not being heard during a public hearing.”
Ms. Parkington concluded by expressing her support of the recall ordinance.
Ms. McAuliffe closed the public comment portion and proceeded with assembly discussion and vote on the recall ordinance.
“If there was interference [between a delegate and a commissioner] somehow that would be something relevant to the recall discussion, because it might make us want to think about having a way for the assembly to be responsible for the bad behavior of other delegates,” Harwich delegate Elizabeth Harder said.
“Where is an individual in the community supposed to go?” Mr. O’Malley asked. “Who are they supposed to talk to? We’re now appointing ourselves as a recall body and what we’re being told today is we can’t hear about that because it’s personal. That’s a contradiction.”
The vote was called and the ordinance was passed. It will now go to the County Commissioners for a vote. Commissioner Beaty said he will abstain from voting on the ordinance.
Ms. Zuern was the only delegate to vote no.