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Glendale City Council may limit comments by ‘known crooks’

January 17, 2012 |  2:32 pm

A Glendale councilman wants to place restrictions on city interactions with certain individuals, and limit who can comment at city meetings, a move raising concerns by 1st Amendment advocates.

At the root of the effort is a long-simmering tiff between the City Council and some of its regular commentators. A group of residents alleged that Barry Allen –- described as both a gadfly and city watchdog –- had been convicted of running a counterfeiting operation in the mid 1980s.

Allen claims he was working undercover for a federal agency. He is a frequent critic of city leaders, publishes a weekly newsletter and holds weekly forums to discuss municipal issues, the Glendale News-Press reported.

The revelation of Allen's alleged criminal history prompted Councilman Ara Najarian to ask staff at the council meeting if there was a way to bar officials from talking to Allen, his Vanguardian group, or others connected to criminal activities.

"A few weeks ago I sarcastically congratulated some of our department heads and a captain of our police force for attending and hosting or being the keynote speaker at one of Barry Allen's forums," Najarian said. "I find that to be a huge problem and at this point forward a dereliction of the duty of the City Council to have this continue."

City Atty. Mike Garcia said he will be working with the city manager's office to draft a report on the proposal. The report would be discussed at a future council meeting, but there is no set date.

"Translating the desire to avoid talking to 'known crooks' into viable, constitutionally sound policy is probably impossible," said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, an open government advocacy group.

After the meeting, Mayor Laura Friedman said she understood Najarian's concerns, saying that sending staff to talk to the Vanguardians gives Allen legitimacy.

"I think it's going to be a very fine line," Friedman said about setting a new policy. "It's our responsibility to converse with the public, but it's also our responsibility to ensure they are protected."

Councilman Rafi Manoukian, who has attended Allen's meetings, said he believed barring staff from talking to the public could be unconstitutional. He also defended staff who had met with Allen's group.

"They performed their jobs as they're supposed to in terms of relaying the information to the community and to community members," Manoukian said, speaking from the council dais.

Glendale's efforts come as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is also considering ways to limit public comment at meetings.

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-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News

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