OPEN MEETINGS -- Some mayors and other presiding officers in local government might well love to have a trapdoor under tiresome speakers at public meetings, but until that technology gets legal blessing, the solution currently being tested in the City of Carson is what broadcasters call the Kill Switch. As Jeff Gottlieb reports in the Los Angeles Times, "Carson's mayor has a tool that almost any politician would love to
have: a mute button. If someone talks too much at a City Council
meeting, with a flick of the finger, the microphone goes dead."

But after receiving a complaint that Mayor Jim Dear was shutting people
down because he didn't like what they were saying, rather than waiting
until they had used up their allotted three minutes of free speech
time, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office is looking into
whether he has violated the state's open meetings law.

"It's a
very unique complaint," said David Demerjian, who heads the district
attorney's Public Integrity Division. "I have never heard of a mute
button being used by a mayor of any city in the county of Los Angeles."

Demerjian
said his office had undertaken "an inquiry" rather than an
investigation because no criminal activity has been alleged. If his
office finds that Dear did have an itchy mute-button finger, Demerjian
said his office would write a letter to the mayor asking him to stop or
ask a judge to issue a court order to prevent it.

City Atty.
William Wynder said he thought the inquiry was triggered by a letter to
the district attorney sent by a Carson resident who regularly speaks at
council meetings.

In his three-paragraph letter dated Jan. 7,
Robert Lesley requested the mute button be removed. "By using this
device (mute button), it has clearly disenfranchised me and other
Carson Citizens from participating in our civil duties," he wrote.

In an interview, Lesley, who once had a cable access show about Carson, said that Dear cuts off anyone he disagrees with.

Lesley was last silenced at the Dec. 1 council meeting, he said.

"He used the power of that button to control my expression," Lesley said.

Dear
said he had done nothing wrong. The inquiry, he said, "is in response
to a poltiical gadfly that insists on getting his way at the city
council meetings . . . and he basically wants to create trouble in the
city of Carson. He's not constructive, positive or helpful to the
community."

Councilman Mike Gipson said the mayor has silenced not only members of the public but also council colleagues.

Gipson said he brought a megaphone to a November council meeting in case the mayor tried to shut him off.