Orange County Board Drops Rule Restricting Commenters From Addressing Individuals

February 10, 2021 Updated: February 11, 2021

Southern California residents who want to make public comments during meetings of the Orange County Board of Supervisors can now address individual members by name, instead of having to address the board as a whole.

The rule requiring all public remarks to be addressed to the entire board had stood since being adopted in 1971, but was finally dropped last month in response to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit after years of legal wrangling. The suit argued the rule violated First Amendment rights to free speech.

Supervisor Don Wagner told The Epoch Times that the procedural change won’t affect much during public discussions.

“There’s going to be no difference in the way meetings run,” Wagner said. “As I can remember, it wasn’t particularly enforced. There are members of the public who are always busily calling us out by name.”

Wagner said that the rules are in place to help the board focus—not to silence people.

“If you’re going to come and address the Board of Supervisors, and you’ve got something that matters to you and it matters enough that you want to address the board and you want us to listen, it’s generally not a good idea to come in and start calling people names,” he said.

Wagner noted one public commenter often purposely mispronounces Supervisor Andrew Do’s last name in an attempt to annoy him. He said the best way for a commenter to advocate for a position is to make a point with a logical, clear argument, not personal attacks.

“It’s not a good idea to come in and say, ‘Wagner, you are just the village idiot.’ It’s better to say, ‘Board, here’s what’s going on, here’s what you ought to do differently,’ rather than single anybody out,” he said, adding that he values the opinions of those constituents.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee told The Epoch Times that he also doesn’t think the removal of the rule will change the behavior of public commenters.

“Before you can say ‘Stop talking,’ [public commenters have] already said what they wanted to say,” Chaffee said.

The board’s 1971 rule stated, “All remarks and questions shall be addressed to the Board as a whole and not any member thereof. No question shall be asked a Board member or a member of the County staff without first obtaining permission of the Chairman.”

Chaffee said the rule was created originally to prevent personal attacks.

“They wanted broader discussion about issues of concern to the whole board, because the board acts as a whole,” Chaffee said. “An individual does not create any kind of policy for the county—it has to be a board action—so the idea was to address the entire board about concerns the board could take action on.”

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