By Bob Conrad and Carly Sauvageau
Reno City Council member Devon Reese on Wednesday told a man making public comment during a council meeting he had to dress appropriately to speak during comment. The man spoke before the city’s budget meeting.
The man chastised council members about the condition of Teglia’s Paradise Park and had gone slightly over his three minutes to speak. That’s when Reese chimed in.
“I’m excited that you’ll be considering political life,” he said. “Next time you show up in the chambers, please dress appropriately for this body. That’s your warning.”
The man proceeded to argue with Reese.
“That’s your one warning; thank you very much,” Reese said.
They proceeded to raise their voices at one another, and the man’s mic was turned off. A Reno Police officer then escorted the man away from the dais.
An attorney with the ACLU of Nevada called Reese’s comment troubling.
“Clothing can constitute expressive conduct if it meets two requirements — The first is that nothing is worn to convey a particularized message,” Chris Peterson said. “And two, there’s a great likelihood that the message would be understood by those who view it.”
He said any dress code would have to be consistently enforced.
“If there is no dress code, what is the legal basis to talk to somebody in this way? Government officials need to be careful in that context especially when they are sharing information they may not want to hear,” Peterson added
Council member Jenny Brekhus objected to the man’s removal for the reason stated by Reese.
“I do not see in our rules any regulation of dress decorum,” she said, suggesting the man could bring an open meeting law complaint against the city.
City Manager Doug Thornley said it was his decision to remove the speaker.
“Whatever was or was not said by Council member Reese, I am the sergeant-at-arms under the council rules and the decision to remove this constituent was mine,” he said. “If you watch the tape, you’ll see my motion to the police officer. I made that choice after multiple warnings were ignored regarding disruptive behavior after the three minute comment period ended.”
Thornley was not able to say how decorum was determined by somebody’s dress but said, “I’m sure we’ll write something up.”
Watch the exchange below
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.