Fort Myers City Council drafting ordinance to ban offensive, foul language at meetings

The Fort Myers City Council is taking on free speech. The Council wants the right to put you in jail for verbally abusing people in their meetings.

Simply put, the Council believes people using offensive or foul or abusive language prevents them from getting the city’s work done.

Their proposed ordinance punishes violators with up to a $500 fine and/or up to 60 days in jail.

Speech considered foul, abusive, derogatory, hurtful, insulting, aggressive, hateful, racist or vulgar… That’s the kind of language the city wants to eliminate from Council meetings.

So the Council asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance to tighten rules against offensive or foul speech for the sake of civility.

Fort Myers City Attorney Grant Alley explains what it would entail, “Things like calling people stupid. That last speaker that just got up here is stupid— things like that we’re trying to encourage because what it does is it intimidates other public speakers.”

Alley said the Council believes language is to a point where it gets in the way of doing city business.

“There’s name-calling going on, there’s criticizing other speakers going on— some of it is very graphic and sexual of nature,” Alley said.

Some neighbors believe the Council is trying to prevent people from speaking their minds or disagreeing with them.

Crystal Johnson, president of the Community Forum Foundation calls it a violation of the First Amendment, “That is just absurd. Why are we trying to limit the ability of the people to speak their truth and is their constitutional right.”

Johnson says the Councils rules are already strict enough and with recent changes in safety and security at meetings, she fears they’re keeping people away.

The city attorney says those changes in safety and security will allow guards to stand close to the podium to monitor speakers.

He hopes to finish his draft ordinance in the next month.

Reporter:Brea Hollingsworth
Writer:Derrick Shaw
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