NORTH ADAMS -- If the proposed Rule 10A banning signs at City Council meetings has supporters, none of them turned out to City Hall for Tuesday's General Government Committee meeting.
Committee members said they would not recommend City Council adopt the proposal to ban signs, placards, banners, posters and "similar items," and the change to the council's Rules of Order was opposed outright by residents attending the meeting. The residents argued in favor of free expression and constitutionality in new lawmaking while City Councilors Marie Harpin and Keith Bona simply stated their belief that enacting the new law wouldn't fix any problems.
"I don't believe the problem lies in the signs," Bona said.
The chief "problem" being disruption of meetings by the public -- the impetus behind Rule 10A.
But Bona said "the [council] president has a gavel for that."
"If someone really wants to get their message out there, banning signs is not going to solve that issue," he added. "They'll just find other methods. ... To make a sign legal [by the letter of the new law] you could stick it on a shirt."
Bona concluded, "[City Council] will just be back here in a month trying to figure out the next rule to prevent people from doing something else."
Resident Robert Cardimino alleged that the law went against the state and U.S. constitutions, and if it passed, he would fight it, "either through the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] or the U.S. courts."
The ACLU has previously written in solidarity with Cardimino, saying the proposed law "unduly burdens expressive rights."
Instead, Cardimino proposed reinstating residents' prior ability to speak on agenda items as a means of limiting disruptions and unruliness from the audience.
"Recognize us and let us have our say [during general debate]," Cardimino said.
Harpin disagreed: "In order to do that, Mr. Cardimino, you have to be elected by the members of this community."
Rule 10A presumably resulted from Cardimino's past actions during council sessions, Cardimino said.
Council President Michael Bloom proposed it in November, one day after Cardimino was again allowed to enter City Hall after the city lifted a five-month "no-trespass" order against him -- a ban put into place partly because Cardimino had brought a sign to an earlier meeting. But Harpin said during her 15 years on the council she "can't remember one other time" where the council had an issue with a resident bringing a sign to a meeting.
Resident Aaron Crandall thought that Rule 10A not worth the risk of a potential constitutional violation or more resistance from the public.
"I have to applaud [Councilors Bona and Harpin], I think you're making the right decision," he said.
To reach Phil Demers, email