Applause, as well as its first cousin, booing, is prohibited during Richmond City Council meetings. With the body taking up increasingly contentious issues — namely stadium construction and park privatization — City Council President Charles Samuels has adopted a fatherly tone while attempting to maintain order.
"Ladies and gentleman … I will turn this building around and go back home," he good-naturedly told a packed chamber during a particularly rowdy meeting Feb. 24, after stadium opponents booed supporters of the plan during the public comment period.
During a recent public hearing on plans for Monroe Park, which City Council appears poised to lease to a private conservancy for management, Samuels attempted to quell applause.
"Folks, this is your literal one warning," Samuels said. "Next time we get an interruption, we'll take appropriate action."
To what ominous-sounding recourse was Samuels referencing? He refers Style Weekly to City Council rules of procedure, which essentially give him authority to call a recess until order is restored.
"I'm not trying to be heavy," he says. "I'm just saying, 'We're going to hit the pause button until everyone behaves.'"
Samuels is the father of a 3-year-old boy. But he says that doesn't have much to do with his tone during council meetings.
"This is not a paternal thing," he says. "But being on council has certainly taught me patience."
Samuels isn't the only council member who's wrestled with decorum in recent months. During a meeting of the Land Use Committee, the chairman, Councilman Jon Baliles, called a recess and security to remove an audience member who began shouting about the Monroe Park issue. There was no security in the room and the man left on his own accord, though a guard appeared about 20 minutes later.
Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, running a Finance Committee Meeting, was faced with a supporter of the ballpark who repeatedly refused to yield after his allotted three minutes for public comment. She told him the only reason he was able to continue speaking was that the mute button on her desk didn't actually work on his microphone.
Council's rules of order also allow its president to ban residents from meetings for as long as six months if they violate the body's rules. Only one resident has been banned in the past 20 years, and that was in 2012, according to council spokesman Steve Skinner.