Glendale Public Speaking Violation for Harris?

We offered some answers to some narrowly celebrated criticism levelled by Justin Harris against Glendale First! involvement in recall activities for Glendale councilmembers Tolmachoff and Turner. He objected to wording in the 200 word summary on the recall petitions that emphasized the lack of public safety spending and poor response times.

Officially Representing Glendale Police

Justin Harris

GLEA president Justin Harris

Mr. Harris is a Glendale police officer and the President of the Glendale Law Enforcement Association (GLEA) and co-chair of the Glendale Police Officer Coalition (GPOC). GPOC is the recognized “employee organization” (union) for Glendale police officers.

He was allowed by the mayor to speak for nearly double the three minutes allotted for speakers in that portion of the meeting.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion.

Unfortunately, in the case of Glendale employees, state and city law appears (I am not a lawyer) to prohibit them from expressing those opinions in a venue such as the comments section prior to a City Council meeting.

City Attorney Memo

Glendale City Attorney Michael Bailey distributed a memo (click here) (obtained via public records request) on June 2, 2015 with the subject “Employee Political Activities in City Election”.

The memo outlines permissible and prohibited activities for municipal employees such as Mr. Harris and provides snippets of Arizona and Glendale code.

Among the “Prohibited Activites”

  • Unless expressed clearly as a personal opinion, participate in any political activity, including expressing an opinion on an issue or person involved in a city election; including, for example:
    • expressing a personal opinion while on duty,
    • expressing a personal opinion while in a city uniform,
    • using city resources or funds to express a personal opinion, or
    • expressing oneself while otherwise identified in any manner as a city employee.

Video Introduction

In the video of June 23 Glendale City Council meeting (at 28:27), Mr. Harris introduces himself and identifies who he is representing that evening:

My name is Justin Harris. I am president of the Glendale Law Enforcement Association and co-chair of the Glendale Police Officer Coalition. I’m here tonight speaking on behalf of my members as well as Julie Pendergast.

While Harris does not identify himself as a Glendale police officer, he is wearing an embroidered “GLEA” shirt and clearly states that he is speaking for his members on a political matter that is not even on the agenda for the City Council meeting.

Later (31:17)

I’m here to tell the public today as being the person who represents the line level men and women who wear the badge.

Note, Harris should have been cut off after the above statement when his three minutes expired.

Besides expressing his opinion as a representative of his membership, Mr. Harris closes his speech saying:

I want each of you to be aware and the public to not support the recall against Councilmember Tolmachoff and Councilmember Turner because it’s misrepresentation of the facts.

It seems clear that’s not behavior recommended in the memo from Bailey.

Free Speech

Questions should arise from the speech Mr. Harris gave, more questions than have been raised by the people quoting him verbatim and condemning a small portion of a 200 word summary on a petition as “outright lies”.

  • Why was Mr. Harris allowed to speak for such an extended period by mayor Weiers?
  • Did Mr. Harris meet with any councilmember(s) prior to the City Council meeting to discuss talking points and topics for his speech?
  • Why was Mr. Harris allowed to speak in his official capacity at all?
  • Has the City Attorney considered or received any complaint against Mr. Harris for this activity?

The memo from the City Attorney seems clear, but sometimes that doesn’t mean anything. The law and interpretation are often strange beasts.