Iowa City City Council votes against penalties for disruptive public commenters

The city council voted to strike down its idea to implement a penalty for disruptive public commenters, but they do want to have a mechanism to stop public comment from disrupting meeting business.


Gabby Drees

Mayor Bruce Teague speaks at an Iowa City City Council meeting at the Senior Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.

Ryan Hansen and Emily Delgado

The Iowa City City Council struck down its desire to install a penalty against individuals in order to remedy a disorderly meeting. 

Although this was the first consideration of this motion, the council unanimously decided it was not in favor of penalizing public commenters after discussion. The council did agree it would be wise to have certain tools to regulate public comment but imposing a municipal infraction is not what they want. 

“I do think that we are allowed to govern the germaneness of comments at our meetings…I’m not going to be supporting this tonight,” City Councilor Laura Bergus said. 

Bergus said although she was the one in favor of imposing some sort of penalty for disruptive public comments, she is not in favor of criminalizing public comments. 

“​​When I asked for this civil citation, it was because we were going down the path I thought of criminalizing participation in our meetings, and was not something that I was in favor of,” Bergus said. “So, I kind of offered it up as a less harsh alternative.”

The city council would have imposed a series of fines to public commenters who infringed the council’s meeting rules. The first penalty is a fine of $250, with second offenses incurring a $500 fine, and third offenses incurring a $750 fine.

Mayor Bruce Teague echoed Bergus’ discomfort to have a punishment for disruptive public commenters, but is in favor of having something in the “council’s toolbox” to address disruptions during the public comment period.

“I think the reality is, at least from my perspective, we should never get to this point…It could happen where we could not operate on our means. And if someone kept coming back and causing a disturbance what do we have in our toolbox to kind of be towards that,” Teague said. 

Taylor Kohn, a public commenter, was among one of multiple commenters who voiced strong opposition to the city council’s desire to install the imposition of a municipal infraction.

“I wanted to tune in to let you know each of you have a responsibility to oppose this,” Kohn said. “To have any punitive measures at all in place for the public comment will hurt the public and will hurt your relationship with the public.”

Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter defended the council in trying to regulate its meetings, saying it will not be inaccessible to the public. 

“Please understand from my conduct, that these meetings are for us to get through an agenda and to conduct business,” Alter said. “It’s not that we don’t want to hear from you as you are helping conversations and helping policy decisions.”