A local homeless advocate was escorted from Tuesday’s Amarillo City Council meeting and taken into custody after city officials said he failed to adhere to a policy prohibiting applause or verbal response during the public comment portion of the session.
Kip Billups was removed from the council chamber by two Amarillo police officers, subsequently handcuffed and transported away from City Hall shortly thereafter by another police officer. No information was available from the police department regarding charges filed against Billups.
After the initial public comment speaker of the session finished her statement, there was applause and cheering from some in the assembly. Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson then used her gavel.
“I want to make sure we create an environment that’s not intimidating for folks,” Nelson said. “If that’s something you cannot abide by, that’s fine. You can leave now. If we have to call you down on it again, I will ask an officer to escort you out of the room. The reason we don’t do that (cheer) is because this is a business meeting and we’re here to accomplish business. We’re here to receive comment and want to do it in a way that is respectful to everyone. It can be intimidating if people don’t agree with your comments and create noise or some sort of reaction that makes your unpopular comment something you don’t want to bring up to the podium. Every voice should be heard and respected in the same manner. That is why we don’t do clapping. If you do wish to agree, you can silently hold your hand up.”
The next speaker, Michael Green, offered a dissenting opinion.
“I would like to address several violations of the law you are committing in operation of these meetings,” Green said while addressing the Council. “Each and every one of you have been violating the law. This idea of raising your hand instead of cheering or booing is quite frankly direct infringement on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution. We have a right to speech and you have a right to maintain order, but only so far as is necessary to maintain order. If you don’t like the idea of us clapping or booing, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, that’s just tough. I’m sorry, but you’re just trying to distort the public record, and that is a crime under the Texas Penal Code, Section 37.10. You’re also having closed session meetings not authorized by law.”
There was applause and cheering after Green spoke, which moved Nelson to ask Billups and another member of the audience to stand. The first audience member she asked to stand was informed since he did not abide by the no applause policy, he would be asked to leave and he did so.
Meanwhile, when Nelson addressed Billups in the same manner, he did not respond and Nelson asked the officers to remove him from the room.
“You’ve just got to stand up for what’s right,” Billups said as he was escorted to the elevator to leave the building.