Pipeline opponent guilty of disorderly conduct for speech at public meeting
A Lancaster County woman has been found guilty of disorderly conduct for speaking out of turn at a public meeting. She was arrested in April for failing to follow special meeting rules, which permitted people to ask questions but barred them from making statements.
54-year-old Kim Kann is a Conestoga Township resident who has been a vocal opponent of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise interstate gas pipeline. During the meeting she got up to correct what she viewed as misstatements about a ballot initiative to study home rule. Opponents had been pushing for the measure in an effort to block the pipeline.
“I’m angry and kind of dismayed,” Kann says of her arrest and guilty verdict. “I felt like it was a politically-motivated overreaction.”
The entire meeting was posted on YouTube by Conestoga Township. Kann approaches the microphone approximately 1 hour, 19 minutes into the video. She speaks for less than two minutes before the police intervene:
Southern Regional Police Department Chief John Fiorill says he respects Kann’s right to speak, but made a judgement call when he felt she was being disruptive.
“Based on my experience as a police officer, I feel I have enough knowledge to know when someone has crossed the line in their First Amendment rights. As in a movie theater if you shout ‘fire’.”
Fiorill did not believe Kann posed a public safety threat, but he says her behavior met the definition of disorderly conduct— which involves creating an annoyance, inconvenience, or alarm to the public.
“First Amendment rights are not absolute during public meetings,” he says. “Speakers can be silenced if they are disruptive. I could tell the crowd was uneasy.”
Kann disputes that characterization, because the citation she was issued also stated that her actions served “no legitimate purpose.”
“I had very legitimate concerns,” says Kann.
She now faces a $25 fine and $300 in court costs but plans to file an appeal.