In June, after former planning commissioner Eric Braun called out Raleigh City Council member David Cox during a council meeting’s public comment period, the council quickly voted to change its rules of decorum.

Under the new rules, residents couldn’t address council members by name during public comments, which a First Amendment attorney told Leigh Tauss was probably an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech, though that theory hasn’t been tested in court as far as I know. 

Tauss’s story on the rules change prompted Cox to have a social media meltdown. In October, he was the only member of the council’s NIMBYish majority to keep his seat—in part thanks to a poorly conceived ad targeting him over that vote—and now finds himself decidedly outnumbered by a younger council that promised to do things differently. 

And yet, at its very first meeting Tuesday, the new council not only kept the rules of decorum but expanded them: At the start of the night session, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin announced that not only could residents not call out council members by name, but they also couldn’t mention the names of staff members. (As a reader pointed out, Baldwin appears to have gotten out over her skis; the rules—which also require speakers to sign up two weeks ahead of time (!)—only specify that you can’t say the name of a council member. They say nothing about a staff member.)

First offense, a warning; second, kicked out of the building. 

It took just six speakers for the Notorious MAB to show she wasn’t messing around

Barbara Smalley-McMahan, a member of Raleigh PACT, an organization that has called for greater police accountability. She began by talking about meetings she had last month with police officers and the common ground she discovered they had. 

“Not too long after that,” she continued, “a white woman was stopped on St. Mary’s Street on suspicion of driving under the influence. When I saw the video footage and watched the officer unzip her jacket, jiggle her breast, rub his hands across her buttocks, and tell her to spread her legs wider so he could run his hands over her crotch for a possible weapon, my anger was triggered by the humiliation and lack of safety I could imagine this woman felt.

“After her attorney announced a belief that the officer had sexually assaulted her client, Chief [Cassandra] Deck-Brown went on record in defense of the proper protocol …” 

Bang, bang, bang! came the gavel. 

“Barbara, please,” Baldwin sternly interrupted (at about 31:26 in the video linked above). “This is a warning. I asked at the beginning to follow proper decorum. That means you do not mention a staff person by name. Do you understand? OK? If that happens again, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Let’s get this straight: A citizen of the city of Raleigh—whose taxes pay the salaries of the city council and every city employee—is not allowed to mention their names in a public hearing, even while making a factual statement? 

Deck-Brown did defend Officer K.E. Van Althius, saying after the incident made national headlines, “That officer was absolutely professional in everything that he did. He didn’t deserve that allegation, and I needed to speak out on his behalf.”

Whether you agree with Smalley-McMahan’s interpretation of the body-cam footage or Deck-Brown’s is beside the point. What matters is that this is an issue of public concern, and the public comment period is designed to give residents an opportunity to air issues of public concern before their representatives in a public hearing. 

Who exactly do council members think they are to tell their constituents whose names they can and cannot say during the three minutes in which they’re allowed to talk?

How fragile are the egos inside City Hall exactly? 

Deck-Brown is a strong, smart woman. She can withstand criticism. Same with Baldwin. And even if other council members or public officials can’t, too bad. They sought out these positions. The people who pay their salaries have a right to address them, even if they’re impolite or mean or just plain wrong.

A lot of really great things happened at that first council meeting. Enforcing this asinine rule wasn’t one of them.  

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at This story has been updated. 

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6 replies on “The Raleigh City Council’s Rules of Decorum Were Bad Five Months Ago, and They’re Still Bad Now”

  1. Wow, that’s pretty extreme since it’d 4 stories tall.

    But, Baldwin has been pretty sensitive to being called out in the past too, so it’s not that surprising.

  2. Leigh, really you need to get your all consuming obsession with David Cox under control. The story here is that the”new” council is even more repressive about citizens speaking than the previous one!
    Where’s the ACLU or someone like “Indy Week” to challenge it in court. Why isn’t Nicole Stewart and other current council members speaking out? Please turn your attention to the new council members actions (or lack of) instead of focusing on David Cox. Time to move forward….

  3. The lack of respect shown for the US Constitution and the citizens of Raleigh is astounding. Not only does one have to sign up 2 weeks in advance to speak at a meeting, but their First Amendment rights are also severely diminished when they do have the opportunity to be heard? Outrageous. This council will find itself in Federal Court having to defend it’s behavior if this continues.

  4. The Indy, Leigh Tauss and Billman, totally supported and endorsed these new councilors except for one. We tried to tell you that you were wrong.

  5. I love the hearsay attribution of something “probably…unconstitutional” in this latest hit piece against Raleigh’s finest city councilor, who doesn’t kowtow to development interests:

    “…which a First Amendment attorney told Leigh Tauss was probably an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech…”

    Pray tell, who was this first-amendment attorney, whose hearsay is at the heart of this piece, together with the fact that Baldwin will do anything she wants whether it’s against the law or not, including apparently repressing first amendment rights.

  6. The new “Indy Week” approved city council is more repressive than the previous one!
    You’re missing the real story here by (again) focusing on David Cox. Time to move on and ask why Nicole Stewart and other councilors didn’t speak up!

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