DOWNTOWN LAFAYETTE, L.a. — Lafayette social media erupted Tuesday morning with clips of video showing a local woman being removed from a meeting of the Library Board of Control.
Melanie Brevis, co-founder of Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship, was reading a prepared statement during the public comment section of the meeting when Robert Judge, the board's chair, informed her she was "out of order."
"I was not making any threats or saying anything hateful, you know, I wasn't trying to step up and physically talk to board members," Brevis said. "I stayed behind the podium, I was not saying anything that was openly derogatory or false about the board members, I was simply stating my opinion about their actions."
Two Lafayette Parish Sheriff's deputies, who were paid security at the meeting, approached her and escorted her out of the meeting.
It's not immediately clear why she was found to be out of order, but here's a link to the board's rules for public comment: http://lafayettepubliclibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/DRAFT-LPLBC-SPEAKERS-REQUEST-FORM.pdf
We reached out to library officials, who directed us to Judge. We did get in touch with another board member, but she told us that Judge is the one who would be able to explain what violations he felt Brevis committed.
After several hours, we tried going to the address on the companies that Judge is listed as an agent for in state business filings. He answered the door, and before insisting we leave, said we would need to make an appointment by sending him another email. He also said he'd responded to our first emails, but as of 3:30 p.m. we had not received an email from him.
At about 3:45 p.m. we did receive an email from Judge. In it, he says Brevis was asked to leave because she violated the state "disturbing the peace" law. He does not indicate which aspect of that law she is accused of violating - one can disturb the peace in Louisiana in several ways, but Judge wasn't specific. He says she violated parish ordinances and the library's policy as well, but again isn't specific.
He also sent us the following statement:
SPEAKING AT PUBLIC MEETINGS
In order for a democracy to work, the people and their representatives must be able to peaceably assemble to civilly discuss the issues at hand. And this is especially true when there is a meeting of a governmental body — from the U.S. Congress down to the smallest boards of the smallest village.
For example people who disrupt the civil debate in Congress, engage in personal ad-hominem attacks are asked to leave, and if they refuse the presiding Congressperson has the Congressional police arrest the offender and remove them.
The taxpayers have a right to expect that their elected officials and the people they appoint to the necessary boards will be able to do their job. And the public has a right to expect that their opinions will have an opportunity to be heard at public hearings. They do not have a right to violate the terms of the agreement to speak and engage in derogatory personal attacks. People who violate the terms of the agreement they sign can expect to be removed, which is what happened. The Federal and state courts have consistently held that disrupters do not have a right to hijack a public meeting or to prevent civil debate.
Mr. Judge was the presiding officer at the Library Board Meeting on January 09, and as such had the responsibility to maintain order so that the business of the community could take place. We desired everyone who wanted to speak to be given a fair opportunity to be heard. Within the framework of the meeting and the form that everyone who wishes to speak signs in agreement with the terms of that document, the person who had violated those terms was warned three times that she was out of order in violation to those terms as clearly stated and noted on the form signed by them. After the third time the person had violated the terms that she had agreed to by signing the document, she was asked to leave by the sheriff’s deputies.
The people of this community have a right to expect that public meetings will be able to be held on their behalf, in a civil manner. The presiders of these meetings have a duty to maintain order in these meetings so that the people’s work can be done, the people can be heard, and civil discourse can occur.
Robert L. Judge
President, Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control
We reached out to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office, and they tell us that the deputies who removed Brevis were working as private security for the board.
Here's a video of the entire meeting, so you can watch it for yourself. Brevis begins her comment around 25:25.
Taylor Toole will have more later today on KATC TV3.