Boulder's elected officials may soon be hunting for a greeting card that properly conveys the sentiment, “we're sorry you were arrested."
Just before midnight on Tuesday, the City Council generally agreed that Boulder resident Seth Brigham is owed an apology for being cut off in mid sentence -- and arrested after he protested the treatment -- during the council's Feb. 16 public comment time.
Just before the council's meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Susan Osborne read a prepared statement about the incident.
“For my part, I interrupted a speaker who I believed was poised to make a personal attack,” Osborne said.
She said that it's sometimes difficult to know what is a personal attack and what is public comment related to the city's business, and that her intention was to “de-escalate” the situation.
But her actions had the opposite effect.
“For this, I am very sorry,” Osborne said.
Brigham, dressed only in his underwear, began his comments two weeks ago by saying he would speak about Councilwoman Suzy Ageton's campaign contributions and Councilman George Karakehian's policy to keep the doors of his downtown business open during the winter.
That's when Osborne stepped in, asking him not to make comments about specific council members. Brigham objected, and Karakehian motioned to a Boulder police officer in the room to remove the speaker.
Brigham was arrested and charged with trespassing and obstruction police after he refused to leave, although the city attorney announced Friday that the charges would be dropped.
Osborne said the council pledges to be respectful of the public, but noted that, “we should expect the same in return.
“At times, we all miss the mark,” she said.
Brigham did not attend Tuesday's meeting, and could not be reached for comment late in the night.
At the end of the meeting several hours later, the rest of the council took turns spending a few minutes talking about how they felt about Brigham's arrest, and how they can learn from it.
Councilman Matt Appelbaum began by saying Osborne should not have interrupted Brigham, but the event happened so quickly that he didn't have time to speak up in his defense.
“I was very disappointed in what happened,” he said. “I don't think it was handled very well.”
Councilman George Karakehian took responsibility for directing a Boulder police officer to intervene with Brigham.
“I felt that things were getting out of control and I felt uncomfortable,” he said. “…For my part in this, I do apologize and I apologize to council.”
Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said she was “very astonished” that Brigham was arrested, and said no one but the mayor should direct the police.
“The mayor was undermined by certain actions council members took and I think that is inappropriate and the mayor is our leader,” she said. “… I really hope it never happens again. I really hope the public accepts our apology and feels they can come here.”
Councilwoman Suzy Ageton said there is an “inherent tension between freedom of speech in public meetings and maintaining a sense of safety and order and civility.”
She said the public expects the council to take control when business meetings become spectacles.
Councilman Ken Wilson described watching the arrest like “being in a car during a car wreck.”
He said it thought it was appropriate to have Brigham removed at the time, and that he has felt physically threatened by the man at least twice before.
Wilson also took responsibility for making a scratching noise on the council's microphones during the incident.
“I contributed to the problem,” he said, adding, “I don't have a perfect memory with what was going on.”
Councilwoman Crystal Gray said she's most concerned that the public might be scared off from speaking at council meetings.
“The public is now left with the impression we don't value their participation,” she said. “I think we're going to have to regain that trust.”
Councilman Macon Cowles disagreed, saying that except for that one time, “we embrace this public forum for people to express their views.”
Still, he suggested that the council could buy Brigham a card and collectively “write a sentiment."
Councilwoman KC Becker said she thinks Brigham is owed an apology because the "arrest went too far," but she also thinks the man sometimes oversteps the line.
"He has called me disgusting, he's called me a bad parent," she said, neither of which have to do with city business. "He doesn't think before he speaks."
For some of the public in attendance on Tuesday, the idea of offering an apology wasn't enough.
“It was with horror that I watched someone's First Amendment rights be violated in these very chambers,” said Mary Young, a member of the Boulder Planning Board.
Young said the council through its actions is involved in the “slow and insidious erosion” of the public's rights.
Steve Pomerance, a former Boulder council member, said the officials should have a stronger backbone when it comes to hearing criticism from the public.
“Being elected to council certainly doesn't make you immune to criticism,” he said.
He said someone on council once told him, “I sat there and took it, and so can you.”
The council agreed to have Karakehian and Morzel -- who were already working as a council committee on public participation -- come up with suggestions about procedures to change to make sure something like Brigham's arrest doesn't happen again.
There was widespread support among the council to remove a provision of its code that prohibits “personal attacks” during public comment time.