Originally posted at 9:18 p.m. Feb. 5, 2014. Edited to add audio.
Decorum once again broke down at the San Juan Capistrano City Council Tuesday night, with Councilman Roy Byrnes likening some of his colleagues to fascists Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
The dustup centered on what recall leaders say are recent attempts by targeted Mayor Sam Allevato to interfere with signature gathering.
“I’m going to open my heart, as you can tell, I’m visibly shaking. I’m so upset,” Byrnes said before he made the comparisons to intimidation squads of the führer and Mussolini.
- Hear the exchange yourself in the YouTube video above.
Allevato took great umbrage at the reference, and even the less demonstrative Councilman John Taylor jumped in the fray when Byrnes also drew an analogy to the Ku Klux Klan “without the burning of the cross or the white hoods.”
“Point of order,” Taylor said. “I really take offense with that. You weren’t there, for one thing.”
Around Jan. 18, Allevato and supporters started to show up in front of Vons, where recall supporters have been collecting signatures. The “posse,” as Allevato himself referred to the group on his Facebook page, have passed out their own fliers and talked to customers.
But recall leaders call it intimidation.
“They stand behind us and say don’t sign the petition,” John Perry complained during the meeting’s open comments’ portion of the agenda. He cited state election law and even a 2006 City Council resolution that support the rights of petition collectors to go about their business without intimidation.
But City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said both the state law and the city’s resolution – which does not have the force of law – are intended to stop the practice of interlopers paid to interfere with signature gathering.
He added that the state law and the city’s resolution may actually violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
“Enforcement would be violation of First Amendment itself,” Van Ligten said. “Political speech on both sides of the issues is clearly the most protected type of speech.”
Allevato agreed: “I have just as much right to stand there as to make my case clear, just as Mr. Perry.”
Byrnes was unmoved. He asked that the council revisit the 2006 resolution at its next meeting.