In an effort to stymie hate speech, the City of Morgan Hill announced Friday that it would shut down remote public comment over Zoom at city council meetings, adding to a growing list of Bay Area cities who have weighed fighting bigoted language over preserving remote participation.
The announcement follows an incident on an October 4 city council meeting where four Zoom participants took advantage of remote public comment to read neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ materials. Several high-schoolers were in attendance on an assignment to participate in the public meeting.
“Many, if not all of us, felt repulsed and sickened by the hate speech,” said Morgan Hill Mayor Mark Turner over email. “I want to apologize to those in attendance at our October 4th council meeting who had to bear witness to such bigotry and discrimination.”
The incident marks one among a nationwide swath of similar disruptions at public meetings by extremist voices. Many of the disruptions are orchestrated by a handful of anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups, according to August 2023 reporting by the Anti Defamation League. Now, Morgan Hill joins officials in Antioch, El Cerrito, Fremont, Modesto, Sacramento, Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, and Walnut Creek in a ban of remote Zoom comment.
“By making these changes, the City of Morgan Hill aims to strike a balance between promoting free speech and protecting the safety and dignity of all participants in its public meetings,” said city spokesperson Michelle Bigelow over email. The ban should protect vulnerable communities and ensure more efficient meetings, she said.
Having to make the move is “disappointing” since Zoom comments allowed for increased participation by community members who couldn’t make in-person meetings, said Morgan Hill City Attorney Donald Larkin, who was part of the decision to opt for the ban.
However, the ban serves as an important stopgap measure that protects city employees from “the definition of a hostile work environment” until Morgan Hill finds a long-term solution, he said. “I don’t think the conversation’s over.”
For now, the city will continue to accept public comment via email, mail, and in person.