(if he had not been removed and arrested)
In Seth Brigham’s mind, efforts by the Boulder City Council to muzzle citizen criticism didn’t begin when he was arrested at the Feb. 16 council meeting wearing only boxer shorts.
A recent statement from the city explained that the removal of Brigham was prompted by a council member — not the mayor — signaling to a police officer, which was “a departure from past practice.”
“It’s not just about a procedural error,” Brigham says. “It’s part of a concerted effort to limit public comment. And it started long before that night.”
He says it dates back to the council shutting down a city television station a few years ago. “It started when they decided they didn’t like what was on the public-access channel,” Brigham claims.
And he says it continued at the council’s Jan. 22-23 retreat, when members discussed a desire to hold more discussions in private and even suggested moving “regulars” like Brigham to the back of the public-comment line at meetings.
It was at that January retreat that he says council members agreed there were too many “personal attacks” on council members, perhaps referring to the recent public spat between council members Lisa Morzel and Suzy Ageton over campaign contributions.
In fact, Brigham was shown the door at the Feb. 16 meeting after he mentioned Ageton’s campaign contributions, and at least one council member told him to avoid “personal attacks.”
If he had been allowed to continue speaking at that meeting, Brigham says he would have raised concerns about Ageton accepting campaign contributions from the Junior Academy developer and then supporting the area plan for that development. He says he would have proposed creating a conflict-of-interest ordinance to avoid such situations in the future.
If he had not been removed, Brigham says, he also would have pointed out the hypocrisy of council member George Karakehian telling the Wall Street Journal last month that he keeps his downtown art gallery doors open even when his heat or air conditioning is running — while serving a city government that bends over backwards to promote environmental efforts and sustainability.
He calls himself “the first test case” of certain council members’ desire to reduce the public’s ability to criticize them, a desire that he says was evident at the January retreat.
Brigham also says wearing only his boxer shorts was not just meant to poke fun at the council’s recent efforts to rein in public nudity, but was also a way to exercise his free-speech rights.
He says he — and the American Civil Liberties Union — are considering taking legal action because of his removal and arrest.
Brigham claims he not only e-mailed his comments to city officials the morning before the Feb. 16 meeting, but called the Boulder County Sheriff ’s Office and Boulder Police Department to make sure it was OK to wear only his boxers at the meeting.
Asked whether he has any other stunts planned for the near future, he says, “I’m going to lay low for a little while here. I still want to give my opinion, but I think I made my point.”
It’s not the first time council members have reacted to Brigham defensively. In fall 2008, police officers begin providing security at council meetings, and Brigham says it was due in part to him walking up to the council desk to hand some written comments to then-Mayor Shaun McGrath, who felt threatened by Brigham’s approach.
City officials’ reaction may be due in part to his mental illness. Brigham, who is manic depressive and bipolar, acknowledges that he tends to “lose a sense of reality” at times.
“The city wants to characterize me as a madman,” he says, adding that city council members are now saying things like, “Seth was in his boxer shorts, who knows what he could do next?” But he maintains that he is no danger to anyone.
He says he knows when he gets psychotic and sick enough to check himself into the hospital.
“When I get disoriented, I get scared, and I call the police because I think someone is following me,” Brigham says. “I’m not a danger. I haven’t hit anybody since I was 12 years old. … The idea that they’re threatened by me physically is ludicrous.”
He suggests that there be less focus on his boxers and more focus on what he sees as a dangerous pattern being set by city council.
“It’s not about me,” Brigham says. “It’s about the future of public speaking. The council’s past actions show that free speech is threatened.
“But I didn’t expect to get arrested.”