Enforcing ‘rules of conduct’ at Des Moines City Council meeting leads to arrest

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Loud cries came from outside of Monday night’s Des Moines City Council meeting. “They have a right to be in this meeting.”

Tensions remained high despite rules of conduct requirements being emphasized for the public. “We ask you not to stand. You are standing,” said Mayor Frank Cownie as he addressed a woman speaking during a time not slated for public comment.

The 5 p.m. meeting began calm with numerous warnings of the rules provided by Cownie. “Everyone in attendance has First Amendment rights and any disruptive conduct by one person or group infringes on rights of others present,” said Cownie.

It was just 15 minutes before problems arose and a small group was ushered out of the meeting. Those removed knocked loudly on the glass windows separating them from the council chambers. “They are signed up to speak. Why are they not being allowed in?” Yelled some of them.

Among the rules, attendees will not be allowed to stand unless addressing the council from the speakers stand. It is also illegal to interrupt other speakers unless by a council member. Leaning or sitting on the council table is prohibited, along with abusive language intended to disrupt the peace. Violators will be removed and charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $750 per violation.

Tempers boiled even after the group was ushered outside the council chambers. It all led to one arrest.
Many in the group called for the firing of Des Moines Police Department Chief Dana Wingert and City Manager Scott Sanders, but a unanimous vote on a resolution of the city’s support quashed any speculation.

Des Moines resident Jaylen Cavil works with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement and was not in violation of any rules. He asked council members, “Why are you trying to criminalize the community who have legitimate concerns and legitimate grievances they want to address with you all and want actual action? Instead you’d rather criminalize folks.”

The group also strongly opposed the council unanimously approving a consent agenda item that entered the city into an agreement with a third-party police executive research forum for the de-escalation training of police officers. Consent agenda items are not up for public comment. Abbey Bankes said, “This is really an attempt to limit public participation by people who couldn’t care less about the council’s shady business dealings.”

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