Eastpointe mayor has meltdown over First Amendment during public meeting

‘You won’t talk about me,’ Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens told residents

click to enlarge Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens (left) berated residents during the public comment period of a public meeting. - City of Eastpointe
City of Eastpointe
Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens (left) berated residents during the public comment period of a public meeting.

Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens didn't want to hear it.

The first-term mayor shouted at residents during the public comment period at a city council meeting on Tuesday and insisted they did not have the right to criticize her.

The city’s attorney corrected her, saying residents have a First Amendment right to address a public official.

But Owens saw it differently.

“As long as I’m mayor, you don’t use that platform to victimize anyone, whether it’s a guy, a woman, or anybody,” Owens exclaimed. “This is not the place. If someone wants to talk about what’s going on in this city and not someone’s personal business, the hearing of the public is now.”

As the meeting descended into chaos, with Owens berating a resident for explaining the First Amendment, the council’s four other elected members walked out of the meeting and didn’t return.

They had heard enough.

At issue were Owens’ disputed claims that Councilman Harvey Curley, who is in his 80s, assaulted her by yelling and putting his hands in her face during the open ceremony for Cruisin’ Gratiot on June 18.

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office dismissed the case.

Three residents turned up at Tuesday’s meeting to defend Curley, whom they described as a gentle, hardworking public servant.

Mary Hall-Rayford was the first to speak, but she didn't get far.

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Owens said as soon as Hall-Rayford began to speak. “We’re going to stop the council meeting because I’m not going to let you speak on something that has to do with police.”

City attorney Richard S. Albright informed Owens that she didn’t have the right to prevent a resident from speaking.

“Members of the public have a right to address the city council or they may speak individually about a member of the council,” Albright said. “If it is going to get into an issue of racial accusations or something along those lines, the mayor as the controller of the meeting can shut that down.”

“But otherwise," he said, "anybody has a free rein of topics they can discuss, and if they want to address a particular member of this council with criticism they are allowed to do that. It is part of their First Amendment rights.”

When Hall-Rayford was finally able to speak, she spoke favorably of Curley and never mentioned Owens.

“She went too far because she had no idea what I was going to say,” Hall-Rayford tells Metro Times.

Karen Mouradjian, who has a law degree, was the third and last resident to speak during the public comment period.

“This is ridiculous. There’s no reason for this,” Mouradjian told the council. “We have First Amendment rights and part of that right clearly states that we have the right to redress our government without fear of reprisal or retaliation. If you can’t take the criticism, you should not be mayor. Enough is enough.”

Owens interrupted, “You’re violating my rights as a person who called the police department for my rights.”

Mouradjian responded, “You are out of line.”

Owens’ answered, “You are out of line!”

“You won’t talk about me,” Owens demanded.

At that point, the council members walked out of the meeting, just 17 minutes into it, without addressing any of the agenda items.

“They stood up for us, and they walked out,” Mouradjian tells Metro Times. “We’re all sitting there scratching our heads, saying, ‘How are we going to have a meeting after this?’”

Mouradjian says Owens’ behavior was inexcusable, especially at a time when the city is facing serious issues. Mouradjian planned to talk about the impact that power outages have had on her elderly neighbors and the spread of parvovirus in dogs throughout Michigan.

“I wanted to talk about how the outages are impacting our vulnerable senior residents and what can we do to have a plan in place should that happen again?” Mouradjian says. “I wanted to talk about the uptick in parvo in dogs because we don’t have Animal Control now. The message needs to get out to the community. I couldn’t talk about any of it.”

Residents reached out to the ACLU and filed a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

"We need assistance," Hall-Rayford says. "We know she violated the Open Meetings Act."

Metro Times couldn’t reach Owens for comment.

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