Hall-Rayford v. City of Eastpointe: Michigan Mayor Censors the Public at a Public Hearing
If you are a resident of Eastpointe, Michigan, who peacefully criticizes the mayor during the city council’s “hearing of the public,” there’s a good chance you may find yourself shouted down, cut off, and ruled out of order. That’s what happened to Mary Hall-Rayford, Karen Beltz, Karen Mouradjian, and Cindy Federle when they criticized Mayor Monique Owens during Eastpointe City Council meetings.
In June 2022, Mayor Owens was involved in a dispute with a fellow council member. She claims 85-year-old Councilman Harvey Curley “assaulted” her at a community car cruise, which he denied. Eastpointers wanted to weigh in on the dispute between their elected officials, but Mayor Owens would not let them.
“I’m here in support of Councilman Curley,” began Mary Hall-Rayford, a community activist and school board member. Mayor Owens cut her off. “I think it’s ridiculous that you’re [Curley] now in this position of defending yourself against really what I consider to be outrageous claims,” said Karen Beltz, a retired teacher and grandmother. Mayor Owens shouted her down and called her comments “assault.” “If you can’t take the criticism you should not be mayor. Enough is enough,” said Karen Mouradjian. Mayor Owens retorted, “You won’t talk about me!” At that point, the other city council members left in protest, leaving the mayor sitting alone in an empty chamber.
Mayor Owens’s actions are unconstitutional. When a city invites public comments during council meetings, the regulation of the public’s speech is restrained by the First Amendment. On November 9, 2022, FIRE filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Monique Owens and the City of Eastpointe, seeking an injunction requiring the mayor and city to allow peaceful criticism at Eastpointe City Council meetings. Mayor Owens swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, not herself.