Clapping may be commonplace at council meetings when officials give out keys to the city or other grip-and-grin awards, but let it be known, there is to be no applause during the public comment portion of City Council meetings in Amarillo, Texas.
You might even be arrested for it, as was Kip Billups, a local homeless advocate, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.
Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson told attendees at the latest Amarillo City Council meeting Tuesday that clapping during the public comment portion of the meeting would not be tolerated, after several members of the audience clapped after the first speaker.
“We are not going to clap,” Nelson said during the meeting. “I want to make sure that we create an environment that’s not intimidating for folks. If that’s not something you can abide by, that’s fine, you can leave now. If we have to call you down on it again then I will ask an officer to escort you out of the room. The reason we don’t do that is because this is a business meeting. We’re here to receive comment and do it in a way that is respectful to everyone. It can be intimidating if someone does not agree with your comment. ... If you do want to agree, you can silently hold your hand up.”
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Two speakers later, Amarillo resident Michael Greene called Nelson’s applause ban “a direct infringement of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and of the Texas Constitution.”
Several audience members applauded, including Billups and another man. Nelson singled both men out and asked them to leave the meeting. The other man walked out of the meeting on his own, but Billups refused to get out of his chair and was escorted out by two Amarillo police officers.
“My understanding was they were going to take me to the door and let me go,” Billups told KVII. “I never show up anywhere specifically to get arrested. I showed up as a patriot and a veteran and as a citizen to express my First Amendment rights.”
The station reported he was arrested for disrupting a meeting and is being represented by local attorney Ryan Brown, who is working the case pro bono.
Earlier in the same meeting, Nelson told the audience, “You can all clap if you want,” after the council issued a proclamation on child abuse awareness.