Local Corrupt Officials
Violate Citizens' Constitutional
Right To Fully Address Grievances

      Blindly fumbling papers at a Newberry CSD meeting, past CSD president, Robert Royalty, in 2013 deplorably mismanaged his duties and marred the Newberry CSD's creditability.  His role as a CSD director has contributed to the failure of the CSD to properly conduct its business and has led to a condemnation by the county's Grand Jury whose 2013 damning report has fueled a call to dissolve the CSD.  Royalty is despicably known for denying the public's Constitutional Right to fully address their grievances before the board by cutting them off at an arbeitrary 3-minutes... or even before.

Lazy, self-serving officials are not expected to make
any changes to the 3-minute rule that would make their
meetings longer.   It's time to vote them out !

  January 1, 2014 

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
Offprinted from the Sentinel.

      Historically, governments of the United States of America abided by Robert's Rules of Order in conducting their meetings: a motion, a second, discussion and then comments by the public before a vote.  Twenty-four years ago, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, which then included Bob Hammock, Marcia Turoci, Jon Mikels, Larry Walker and Barbara Riordan, instituted a 3-minute rule, limiting the time a member of the public was allowed to address issues, including items on the agenda or issues of concern to the speaker.

      The "3-Minute Rule," as most traditionally knew it, was a phrase concerning the amount of time one should leave eggs in boiling water.  In a metaphorical sense, it still is in the minds of our elected officials who continue to enforce it.  Three minutes in their mind is enough for their constituents to "stew" before them.

      Those who dared to come before the board with complaints on how the county government was being run, those brave enough to comment for the public record on an item on or off the agenda, were limited to 3-minutes all up front before a motion was even made.

      Between 1989 and 2004 on 157 occasions, the meeting gavel procured the arrest and/or removal of various speakers from San Bernardino County government meetings for breaching the 3-minute rule and commenting without being recognized by the gavel according to Bob Nelson who has faithfully kept a running tally (Ephemeral Press, 9/24/13).  Those who broke the rule were not just in hot water; they were actually arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for months.  Indeed, Jeff Wright, a recurrent speaker before the board, once spent six months in jail for having exceeded the time a member of the public was permitted to speak in the forum of a board meeting.

First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals.   Wikipeda

Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

      Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

      Definition of Draconian: adjective meaning great severity, that derives from Draco, an Athenian law scribe, under whom small offenses had heavy punishments (Draconian laws).

      Beginning on June 12, 1989, Bob Nelson was the first to be arrested and censored for violation of Penal Code § 403, then a 5-minute rule.  A month later the 3-Minute Rule was in place and on July 24, 1989, Bob Nelson was arrested and censored for violation of it.

      Supervisor Mikels, who was also a member of the South Coast Air Quality Control District Board, is believed to be the first official to apply the speaking limit standard explored by San Bernardino County, when as chairman of the air quality panel, he applied it at one of the district meetings.  The idea spread to other local government representatives throughout the Southland.  After the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors adopted the rule, local governments throughout the county followed suit.  The idea was even adopted by local governments outside of the County of San Bernardino.

      Champions publicly protesting governmental waste, abuse, fraud, poor planning, bad decisions and corruption have been a reality throughout our country's history; but the silencing of speech (i.e., freedom) in the world via arrest was something that World War II was to have ended.

      In San Bernardino County, citizens began to be arrested or removed from public meetings for their speech beginning in 1989:  Bob Nelson, Craig Himmler, Jeff Wright, Larry Singleton, Grace Lester, Marjorie Mikels, Shirley Goodwin, Dennis Pankey and even, on one occasion, yours truly, me, the author of this column, Ruth Musser-Lopez.  Jeff Wright spent the maximum six months in prison for breaking the 3-minute rule while exposing Supervisor Gerald Eaves' unlawful activities while in office.  Eaves was subsequently the target of both federal and state indictments on political corruption charges, which ultimately resulted in his removal from office.

3-Minute Rule originated from a 'Culture of Corruption.'

      On September 24, 2003, the Los Angeles Times, in an article titled "Freedom's Test or Just a Pest" reported "arrests and removal in San Bernardino County have involved about a dozen regulars, some of who are known to pepper the board with nonsensical ravings."

      The author of that article, Hugo Martin, relied on the representations made about these so-called regular gadflies by the county's politicians, who in many cases were the object of the protests inherent in the gadflies' comments.  Others had a different opinion with regard to the content and relevancy of the speech.  In my view, all nine arrested were cogent, intelligent people who were raising legitimate issues and objecting to actions and a culture of corruption during an extended period of time - nearly two decades - that included Eaves' tenure, and those of indicted and convicted former county administrative officer Harry Mays, indicted and convicted former county administrator James Hlawek, indicted and convicted former county treasurer Tom O'Donnell, indicted and convicted former county investment officer Sol Levin and indicted and convicted former San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus. 

      Of those arrested for too-longwinded speaking at the meetings, not all were "regulars."  Some were arrested for having made a single impassioned presentation on an issue of public importance.  Some of these gadflies were downright eloquent.  Others were articulate.  Some were fulsome in their commentary.  All were sincere.  None merited having their First Amendment rights to express themselves and petition their government for a redress of grievances denied.

      Initially, it was just one person being arrested -- Robert "Bob" Nelson.  Characteristically "reserved" and soft spoken in speech, this retired systems analyst and long time resident of Summit Valley was 48 years old when he first resisted the county's speech rule in 1989.  He was arrested at 9 more meetings, tried and found guilty 3-times in 1989 and 1990 spending three months in jail for violation of the 3-minute rule.  But on August 3, 1993, others joined him.  Nelson was arrested along with Craig Himmler who was removed for content of speech and Jeff Wright for words from the floor.  In the 10 months that followed Nelson was arrested 9 more times, Wright, a retired United States Air Force veteran, was arrested 5 more times.  At that point, it was indeed true that Wright and Nelson qualified as "regulars."  Nevertheless, the number of citizens whose intimidated speech was cut short or who chose not to speak at all for fear of arrest are countless.

City of San Bernardino wrestles with 3-minutes.

      Five years after its institution by the county, the city of San Bernardino on May 17, 1994 started arresting people for violation of the 3-minute rule.  Mr. Larry Singleton refused to yield the rostrum after three minutes and insisted on being formally arrested if he was to be ejected from the meeting.  The mayor and a retired peace officer, left the dais and grabbed Singleton from behind.  According to Nelson (Ephemeral Press, 9/24/2013)  "all three men wound up wrestling on the floor...about the time the mace went off...with a class of grade school children in attendance (with tears in their eyes) to see their government in action."  Using Fire Department fans, it took two hours to clear the chambers of the mace set off by the arresting officer.  (id bid)

Draconian arrest.

      I was next.  My personal experience was that on June 13, 1995, I was pulled away from my seven-year old daughter sitting quietly next to me.  A uniformed officer took me by the arm to escort me to the back of the room where, once out of sight of the camera, I was put in a totally unnecessary and excruciatingly painful hammerlock, then handcuffed.  The only thing that those left in the chambers heard was my scream of agony during the officer's hammerlock move on me.  The offense?  I had protested when it was announced that there would be no opportunity for public comment on the agenda item I came to speak on.  My then seven-year-old daughter and I had just driven four hours across the desert from eastern San Bernardino County to protest the dumping of radioactive waste in San Bernardino County.  She was left crying in her chair next to her aunt, my sister, Marjorie Mikels.

Arbeitrary and Capricious

      Marjorie Mikels, a graduate of UCLA School of Law scoring at the top of her class in constitutional law, a long time Upland attorney and resident, was removed from the chambers of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on March 25, 1997 after speaking on time donated by another person in the audience...donation of time is apparently not provided for in the 3-minute rule.

      A year later, on October 20, 1998, Supervisor Eaves, then the board chairman, had Marjorie arrested prior to the expiration of her allotted 3-minute speaking time as she was weighing in against the proposed Ward Valley nuclear waste dump.  Three months later, while her husband Jon was serving as board chairman, she was escorted out of the hearing chambers by deputies for speaking on an issue that was not contained in the meeting agenda.  According to the Los Angeles Times (Martin, 2003)  "Mikels now rarely attends the meetings, saying the arrest lost her a job as a Sunday school teacher.  'They are using the meeting rules to gut the 1st Amendment,' she said."

      Grace Lester had become a "regular" at the board meetings with protest signs exposing a local judge as a pedophile after her own grandchildren, involved in a custody dispute, were awarded to an alleged child molester.  On November 17, 1998, Lester was arrested for "words from the floor" when she briefly expressed her indignation after Supervisor Eaves told a speaker he had no standing to comment on how the board spent taxpayer dollars because the speaker was "unemployed."  The district attorney's office charged Lester with disturbing a public meeting but a judge dismissed the case before trial when it was revealed that the volume had been tampered with on the videotape deputy district attorney Beth Houser intended to use as evidence against the then 59-year old grandmother. (Hesperia Reporter, 7/1/1999).


      The arrests continued between 1998 and 2002, most made on Jeff Wright for unstated reasons or content; but occasionally included Nelson, Mikels and Lester.  However, in 2000, Shirley Goodwin was arrested.  The interesting thing about this arrest is that she was cited on the first removal under Penal Code §§ 148 and 403 for words from the floor.  Significant to this arrest was its effect upon her career.  Goodwin was distinguished as being the first woman sheriff sergeant in San Bernardino County.  She became aware of the corruption in the county; then she was forced to retire when she refused to cover up an internal crime.

      "In 2000, reports of those arrests earned the board of supervisors the "Black Hole" award, a dubious distinction given by the California First Amendment Coalition to public agencies and officials that the group says show disregard for open government and 1st Amendment rights," according to the Los Angeles Times. (Martin, 2003)

      Admission of the true problem finally came after the arrest of former county administrative officer James Hlawek, for having taken bribes.  In his confession to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on September 21, 2000, Hlawek said that Wright was a particularly unwelcome speaker at board meetings because he exposed a

"longstanding, wide-ranging culture of corruption... involving conflicts of interest, sweetheart deals and payoffs"

operated out of the County Administrative Office.  (Source: Ephemeral Press 9/24/2013  "as reported in the San Bernardino Sun, August 30, 2001")

      Through 2003 and 2004, the pace of arrests and removals at San Bernardino County supervisors' meetings increased to about one per month mainly because of Grace Lester being arrested a dozen times; but Jeff Wright, Bob Nelson, Marjorie Mikels and additionally Dennis Pankey were also arrested during that period, with most speakers being removed for content, mainly failing to stick to the Board's own agenda and then refusing to surrender the lectern.

      At the November 5, 2002 board meeting, Wright was arrested when, after the board chairman expressed surprise that no speakers had shown up for a public hearing on that day's agenda, Wright blurted, "Maybe they weren't notified."

Intentionally chilling Free Speech and public participation.

      Terry Francke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times at that point "I haven't heard of anybody nearly as restrictive as San Bernardino County."  Francke expressed concern that the arrests were stifling free speech and discouraging citizens from bringing grievances before their elected officials.

      Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California said  "If you are a member of the board of supervisors, you have to be willing to listen to your constituents and give them some leeway to say what they want to say."

      The Los Angeles Times noted in 2003 that San Bernardino County supervisors were limiting the public's ability to comment on public issues by placing nearly 90% of its meeting items on the consent calendar, which does not require a public hearing."  (Martin 2003).

Ceasing enforcement by arrest.

      Finally bringing an end to enforcement via arrest was the trial of Bob Nelson that grew out of his breach of the 3-Minute Rule on June 29, 2004 when he expressed concerns regarding items on the "consent calendar," numerous items to be approved in total with one vote of the supervisors.  The case filed on that arrest was dismissed at it's first court appearance.

      Beginning with the board's September 21, 2004 meeting, the 3-Minute Rule was no longer enforced by arrest.  Instead a kill switch on the rostrum mike is now used as enforcement.  While the board currently gives some leeway as an additional 30 seconds or as deemed appropriate, this is not the case for every local governing body or city council.

      Persisting, however, is something far worse than the 3-minute rule.  At some point during the late 1990s, the 3-Minute Rule came into such prominence in San Bernardino County local government that it morphed into a 3-Minute Rule of Order replacing Robert's Rules of Order.  Before his passing, William "Bill" Kemp, a Santa Fe Railroad engineer and former Mayor of Needles became a "regular" in the audience at the city's council meetings protesting the discarding of Robert's Rules and warning of speech rights violations.

Direct infringement of rights.

      Instead of 3 minutes per agenda item...the beleaguered member of the public got 3 minutes up front of the meeting and no time at all after the explanation and discussion on the subject by officials prior to the vote.  Robert's Rules of Order, once taught in our public schools as the standard of public meeting governance, was yanked.  Robert's Rules of Order, a tool of civility and assurance that citizens can express their viewpoint with regard to the framing of official public policy, has been replaced in San Bernardino County by the 3-Minute Rule for the past 24 years.

      Not only does the 3-minute rule abbreviate and curtail comment, it makes it difficult or impossible for cogent and timely debate to take place.  Robert's Rules of Order provides the framework for the introduction of an item, a motion, a second, a discussion by the voting members, and then a time for comment by the public before the actual vote.  The 3-minute rule allows public comment before the dialogue among voting members commences.  It does not allow the public to actually participate in the discussion with their elected officials.

      I believe a fitting New Year's Resolution for 2014 would be to restore the historic Robert's Rules of Order to the local governments in the County of San Bernardino everywhere.  Using whatever civil action that one can take-hold... signs, wear buttons, tell others, use public comment time at government meetings, even protest events.  Let's insist that candidates for office include restoration of Robert's Rules on their campaign platform.  If we make this a universal campaign issue, we can then vote in 2014 only for those who will "restore Robert's Rules."

•       •       •

☆   This story was previously published in the San Bernardino County Sentinel  (http://sbsentinel.com)  on December 27, 2013 (we recommend clicking on their website's top bold PDF link, then on the date).  Author Ruth Musser-Lopez can be reached directly at (760) 885-9374 or office @ RiverAHA.com.  She has an archaeological services website located at http://RiverAHA.org.  Ruth's family roots go deep in San Bernardino county's farming history and she is aligned with the Newberry Springs Community Alliance, and a coalition of others, against the Cadiz water project.  She is an active supporter of the Route 66 Corridor Management Plan, a regular county historian contributor to the San Bernardino County Sentinel, and a former city councilwoman of Needles, California.

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Related past blog:

Newberry CSD continues to conceal public documents.

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