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Barring man from speaking was legal Thursday, July 28, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM: A day after selectmen barred him from speaking at their meeting, Jim Rizoli insists they stomped on his freedom of speech rights, but state law gives them the power to not only keep him quiet but physically remove him.

Framingham, in fact, goes further than some communities by offering public participation at all of its selectmen's meetings.  It is a forum that was more open-ended before the board recently clamped down on what could be talked about.

"There's no obligation to recognize anyone," said Town Manager George King, who was ordered to have Rizoli removed Tuesday night.  "People have to be allowed to come into the meeting, but they don't have to be allowed to speak at the meeting."

Tuesday's dispute with Rizoli highlights the fine line boards and committees sometimes encounter when confronted with unruly people.  While some communities never allow the public to speak, those that do caution that their meetings are not open mic nights.

"There is a clear expectation, and the board communicates this, that they expect people to be civil, and questions and comments will be phrased in a civil manner," said Natick Town Administrator Phil Lemnios.  "And they will be germaine to something going on in town."

Marlborough City Council, by contrast, does not allow the public to speak unless it is holding a public hearing.  And Hopkinton selectmen only adopted a public participation policy last year.

Before then, the public did not have an open invitation to speak to the board, and only two such sessions have been held since the policy went into effect in August 2004.  State law does not require a public participation session, according to the attorney general's office.

"At this point we just haven't implemented anything like that, and it's worked pretty well," said Marlborough City Councilor Arthur Vigeant.

Rizoli said yesterday that Chairwoman Katie Murphy is discriminating against him because the subject he wanted to talk about -- the Human Relations Commission -- had nothing to do with illegal immigration.  Before selectmen changed the policy, Rizoli, a Town Meeting member, spoke nearly every week about Brazilians living in Framingham.

"What am I cut off from talking in Framingham anymore?" he said.  "She is a tyrant.  Katie Murphy is a tyrant.  She is out of control."

Murphy, however, defended her actions yesterday, saying she did not step on Rizoli's right to freedom of speech.  She also said she does not have a policy of refusing to recognize Rizoli and his supporters. Rizoli, she said, spoke about the Human Relations Commission at an earlier meeting.

"I don't feel putting hate speech out at selectmen's meetings is an image I want to put out to anybody," she said.  If Rizoli did not walk out, she continued, "I was going to see if there was some other way to get him out of the room."

When Murphy skipped over Rizoli during public participation, he jumped to the mic anyway.  Murphy refused to recognize him and quickly ordered him removed.  Rizoli eventually backed down and left.

Earlier this year, King called the police on a man who demanded to speak to selectmen after public participation.  In Northborough in 2004, police escorted a man from a selectmen's meeting after he protested the wording of a Town Meeting warrant.

State law regulating public meetings states people can only speak with permission.  If, after a warning, a person continues to be disorderly, the chairman can order him or her removed "and confine him in some convenient place until the meeting is adjourned."

"It's certainly a last resort," King said about removing people from meetings.  "My experience is it's been very rare, and it's a last resort.  All circumstances are different."

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