A local attorney, who contends Ruidoso's process for being approved to be placed on a council meeting agenda falls short, went over his reasons Tuesday during the public input portion of the Village Council meeting.
William Griffin, who said he began practicing in Ruidoso in 2005, left for Oregon and has moved back, told councilors, "My comments are relevant to the concept of free expression and the First Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution)."
Like an in-law someone might prefer not to hear, he has the right to speak, he said. "I believe under our constitution I have the right to do so," Griffin said. "Local government is a lot like a dysfunctional family and there's no divorce. You've got to live with us. Like it or not, I'm part of your family."
He was notified in writing that he would not be allowed to speak on a particular topic, Griffin said. "I think it is simply because of what I have to say that I have been prevented. I sought to address the village council in a regular presentation on how the village is performing in reference to (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), state and local laws and ordinances. I studied that. I have some clients who have some serious issues related to preservation of their riverfront property and to the dangers floods present. But twice, I was flatly refused in writing by a member of the village administration, so I read very carefully (the resolution dealing with how a member of the public would be placed on an agenda).
He pointed out the resolution states placement will be considered at a pre-agenda meeting, provided the person with a complaint or request submits a detailed summary and their qualifications for speaking.
"The only other mention of how this process is to be achieved, it says at the pre-agenda meeting it will determined if the item will be placed on the next meeting agenda or if it will be referred to staff or village boards," Griffin said "A timely status report will be given to the requester. Guess what folks, that's it for definition. There is no provision for denying an applicant's request to speak. That might be an oversight. You might rush to fix that. There may be an occasion where it's proper."
But for now, councilors need an education on constitutional law, which he studied in law school, Griffin said.
"Constitutionally, neither the village nor the village attorney has the power to deny a request to make a presentation," he said. "The resolution is clear on that."
A placement request has to be addressed, either by placing it on an agenda or by sending it to staff or to a committee, he said.
"It's a dangerous area for us to be flirting with, in which we as a village attempt to tell some people they cannot speak. That is content-drive legislation and it is forbidden."
To prevent someone from speaking, a compelling reason must exist, he said. He has been denied twice on an important issue, Griffin said. He believes the reason is that he has something to say some officials may not want to hear.
He's hoping the council will give him a forum to make his presentation on the issues as an agenda item the next time he submits a request, he said. He referred to a recent lawsuit in which the court warned the village against "prior restraint."
"You can't stop someone from talking before they talk," Griffin said. Let the person speak and if he defames someone, sue him. But officials can't stop a person from saying the defamatory statement, he contended.