Speaker refuses to leave podium after time is up

Kevin Boozer Staff Writer

November 17, 2013

WINNSBORO — Monticello resident Jeff Schaffer was escorted from the speaker’s podium by county deputies during this week’s meeting of the Fairfield County Council after he refused to yield when his three minutes of public comment were up.

Schaffer, who addressed his comments to the audience, said before he began that “they will have to pull me off of here.”

Schaffer had contacted Clerk to Council Shryll Brown to request 10 minutes to address council about the Dawkins community. According to documents provided by Schaffer, County Councilman David Ferguson requested Schaffer send an email overview or a written outline of discussion points.

Ferguson gave a noon Friday deadline for Schaffer to submit the information, which would give Ferguson time to decide if he would be added to Monday’s agenda. Schaffer refused to send an outline and his request was not granted.

Instead, Schaffer used the public comment time during Monday’s meeting to speak slowly about freedom of speech rights and to criticize council members for what he termed was a lack of accountability and immoral conduct. Quoting from state statutes, Schaffer took issue with what he termed arrogant, dictatorial leadership by Ferguson.

When Ferguson banged his gavel to indicate to Schaffer that his three minutes were up, deputies walked up the aisle to escort Schaffer from the microphone. The officers asked Schaffer to step aside, which drew an outcry from the audience. Schaffer held his arms out to be cuffed but eventually returned to his seat.

Ferguson noted that he granted Schaffer 12 minutes a few weeks ago to address council. In that instance, Ferguson said he had received an outline of talking points, something he said he requires of anyone who requests to be placed on the agenda.

“I always require people to do that when they do presentations,” Ferguson said. “This is not the way you are supposed to conduct business with whooping and clapping. It is a very serious meeting and some people just don’t seem to get that at all.

“My big thing is I take my job seriously and council meetings seriously,” he added. “People think I want to do (this or that) but that is my job as the rules state that the chair is in charge of a meeting to ensure an orderly flow of communication and business.”

Ferguson said he did not like to request a police presence at meetings, noting in 15 years on council this is the first year that was deemed necessary.

“The chair didn’t do anything to ask the deputies to come forward,” he said. “My hands were tied at that point, so that is the reason the officers were there.”

He said upcoming meetings to address bylaws will include language to require the chairman, vice chairman and the representative of the district from which a prospective presenter comes to agree before a presenter can be added to the agenda.

County council held a work session Thursday to address revised bylaws and is expected to vote on the proposed bylaws during a called meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.