The City of Fort Worth is temporarily banning two citizens from attending city council meetings for allegedly being disruptive and preventing council members from getting their work done.
Bob Willoughby is banned from meetings until January 2024, and Adrian Smith will not be allowed to return to a council meeting until February 2024. Additionally, Smith will have to be escorted by a deputy marshal if he has business he needs to conduct at Fort Worth City Hall.
Both men are still permitted to make public comments virtually and can send written letters and emails to council members.
City Attorney Leann Guzman sent letters to Willoughby and Smith on August 25 explaining why they have been barred from attending meetings. The letters were relayed to The Dallas Express by the City of Fort Worth.
According to the letter sent to Smith, he was ejected from an August 22 meeting by the mayor and escorted out of the building by officers. However, he later returned to the council chambers. He was issued a criminal trespass notice.
Smith allegedly continued to yell in the hallway, disrupting not only the council meeting but the work of other city employees. During an August 8 meeting, Smith was also escorted out while yelling, prompting Mayor Mattie Parker to pause the council’s business until he left.
“City staff has demonstrated great restraint not to arrest you for your disruptions,” the letter reads.
The city attorney’s letter to Willoughby claimed he repeatedly refused to comply with the city’s public comment rules, discussing subjects unrelated to the agenda item he was supposed to be speaking on and directing his statements toward the audience rather than the council.
“Bite your tongue, will you? I’m not through,” he said to a council member at one point during an August meeting, according to WFAA. He also referred to Mayor Mattie Parker as his “target.”
Willoughby later told WFAA that he was referring to replacing Parker as mayor in the next election cycle.
“Our actions would not be our actions if it wasn’t for their actions triggering what’s happening,” he said.
The city attorney’s letter claimed that council members called for “points of order” five different times during his comments this year and that both the current and former city attorney previously wrote to Willoughby on separate occasions, warning him about his disturbances before any further action was taken.
Willoughby told WFAA he would be more apt to follow the city council’s rules for public comment if they allowed citizens three minutes to discuss any subject during regular meetings. Fort Worth City Council holds one monthly meeting dedicated to open public comment. Comments delivered during other meetings must be pertinent to an item on the agenda, per the city’s rules.
“We have a right to speak on agenda items, but we don’t have the three free minutes to speak on what we want,” Willoughby said, per WFAA, adding that he believes he should be able to defend his actions in some sort of public hearing.
“If we’re going to justify banning someone, it must be done publicly and with both sides being heard,” he said. “This is one-sided.”
Neither Willoughby nor Smith will be able to appeal the bans against them.
Bill Aleshire, a volunteer attorney for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told WFAA, “People have every right to criticize their government and rebel, in a sense. But they cannot do so in a way that interferes in the operation of a meeting.”
Aleshire noted that allowing the men to deliver comments virtually makes their ban “far less harsh” than if they were not permitted to comment at all.
“We must be careful,” he said. “If we abuse these transparency statutes, the legislature is watching.”