The free-speech discussion that has grown out of a confrontation between Rev. Nathan Monk and Pensacola City Council President Sam Hall is rooted in an exchange the pair began earlier in the week.
Hall opened a Dec. 12 Committee of the Whole meeting by expressing his desire to shorten the night’s public-comment period. The council president told speakers to avoid speaking on the same subjects and to cut their remarks to one minute.
“If you could pick your three best people to say three different things,” Hall said.
There were a number of people present at the meeting. Most were there to address Mayor Ashton Hayward’s proposed ordinance—banning ‘camping’ on city property—that critics felt targeted the area’s homeless population.
Monk immediately took issue with Hall’s prescribed limitations.
“This is the second time, Sam, since you’ve been president that you’ve tried to limit the opportunity of people to come forward,” Monk zeroed in on the newly elected board leader. “I’m not speaking to the rest of the council.”
Later in the meeting, as speakers addressed the proposed ordinance—in dramatic fashion, making connections to the Nazi’s, as well as the birth of Christ—members of the council expressed their ire at the comments.
“Please do not offend and say the things that you have said,” Councilwoman Maren DeWeese told the speakers.
At that point, Hall apologized for allowing the speakers to continue.
“I was thinking in the broader free-speech range,” he said. “But I’m not gonna tolerate that from anybody else.”
A bit later, Councilman John Jerralds took issue with Hall’s limitations on public comment. He relayed a story about purchasing a governmental-procedure book while at a conference in the 1980s.
“I spent $6 on a sunshine book,” Jerrals said. “If you’re going to play the game, you better know the rules.”
Hall replied that he was aware of the rules.
“If we don’t hear from them,” Jerralds told Hall, “then we don’t know what they’re thinking.”
The Committee of the Whole meeting set the stage for the Dec. 15 showdown, during which Monk waited out his public-comment clock as Hall instructed officers to remove him. Monk was surrounded by police officers, but left without incident after his time had expired and two council members—Jerralds and Councilwoman Sheri Myers—walked out in protest. Councilman P.C. Wu also left to speak with Father Monk outside City Hall.
There have since been public calls for Hall to apologize, more than 100,000 YouTube hits on the meeting video and further public exchanges between the President and the Reverend.