Kill The Kill Switch

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Updated By: Andy Alcock
March 26, 2014, 6pm

"Kill the kill switch"

That message came through loud and clear at the Tallahassee City Commission Meeting tonight.

Several speakers told the Commissioners they should get rid of the mute button, or kill switch, for public speakers.

The controversy started two weeks ago. Long term city critic Erwin Jackson was cut off four times before a police officer escorted him from the podium.

Jackson spoke again tonight.

So did several others.

Ken Weaver told Commissioners he would shout and wouldn't let an officer lead him away.

After a half dozen people addressed the issue, we asked Mayor Marks if the City should get rid of the kill switch.

The mute button was not used on any speaker tonight.

Mayor Marks told us city leaders will review their policy on the mute button.

"We're going to take a look at our policy. We're going to look at it and see if there is something we need to revise or do with regards to how we conduct our meetings, how we allow people to speak, and again, all we want is for people to respect each other. Respect the Commissioners. Respect the forum. Respect the public forum, and not engage in personal attacks, not engage in unruly behavior," said Mayor Marks.

Currently, that policy doesn't define what proper decorum or a person attack is.

We ask Mayor Marks what constitutes a personal attack, and he said he didn't know.

A mute button is causing a lot of talk about the Tallahassee City Commission.

Erwin Jackson is a long time critic of Tallahassee city government.

At most commission meetings Jackson will give a three minute presentation.

But at the March 12th meeting, Jackson's microphone was cut off by a new kill switch 17 seconds into his presentation about another citizen's complaint against Commissioner Scott Maddox.

"Personal attack Mr. Jackson, personal attack, it is Mr. Jackson, personal attacks will not be tolerated," Mayor John Marks told Jackson after his mic was cut off.

In less than three minutes, Jackson's mic was cut off four times before a police officer escorted him away from the microphone.

According to the city attorney, only Mayor John Marks and Treasurer-Clerk Jim Cook have the buttons to mute the mike and the March 12th meeting was the first time the kill switch was used.

"The Constitution doesn't say that John Marks is a person who will decide when I have free speech or not," said Jackson.

In September, the City Commission approved a new policy on public meeting participation.

It states, "Speakers must adhere to a standard of public decorum and refrain from personal attacks."

We first requested an interview with Mayor Marks on this subject March 14th and then again Monday.

We were told the mayor was unavailable.

In a statement, he says, "The microphone switch is to help protect the civil discourse that is such an essential part of our democracy."

"Shut up, be quiet right now, let us talk a little," Mayor Marks told Jackson at an August 21st meeting.

Commissioner Maddox called Jackson a bully at the same meeting after he referenced a newspaper article questioning whether or not Maddox lives in the city.

"You're not going to scare me from doing my job," Maddox told Jackson. "You want to run against me, I'll pay your qualifying and you can get the butt whooping at the other end of that rainbow," he said to Jackson.

"The city commission can't handle the truth for even three minutes, that's what the problem is," said Jackson.

According to Commissioner Gil Ziffer, the commissioners may discuss the kill switch button at Wednesday's meeting, depending on what happens.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the mayor's spokesman said Marks would be available for an on camera interview after Wednesday's meeting.

Meanwhile, Jackson says he's consulting an attorney about the issue.

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