The atmosphere inside the Hayward City Council chambers last Mar. 19 was unlike any public meeting in recent memory, Mayor Barbara Halliday said last week. Since last December, family and throngs of police accountability advocates have spoken out vociferously against the city following the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old man by Hayward Police. At times the anger has devolved into heckling of the mayor, city manager, and some councilmembers. “Time to retire, mayor!” a heckler repeatedly told Halliday. “Florida is nice this time of the year!”

“While we have certainly have people who have been angry in the public, I don’t ever remember experiencing meetings like we’ve had in the past couple of months,” Halliday said at the start of the Mar. 26 meeting. She also took fault for allowing the interruptions to occur throughout the lengthy meeting, in addition, to several negative comments made by some councilmembers against their colleagues.

“We had a difficult meeting last week and one of my roles as mayor of the city of Hayward is to preside over public meetings of this city council,” said Halliday. “Given the disruptive behavior and many hostile comments that were expressed last week, I just want to take this opportunity to remind everybody, including council colleagues and myself that is our collective responsibility to maintain regular order and civility in this council chamber.”

Protesters line the back of the Hayward City Council chambers on Mar. 19.

Halliday added the city has been complimented in the past for its decorum during council meetings. However, the perception of comity over the years in Hayward city government has also been due to years of civic apathy. Only within the last two years has Hayward seen a considerable uptick in public activism that has direct roots in the struggles of city’s renters and rising cases of displacement.

Since the November shooting of Agustin Gonsalez, Halliday and the City Council has struggled to control its meetings, which have been raucous by Hayward standards, but actually quite tame as compared to other politically-active cities like Oakland and Berkeley.

Whereas, the presence of addition law enforcement stationed at the back of the Hayward City Council Chambers had been one solution to activism and interruptions, there was almost no police present at the Mar. 19 meeting. In prior months, one solution to the protests was have councilmembers leave the room and call a short recess in the hopes of restoring order. But two councilmembers–Aisha Wahab and Mark Salinas–lodged their own quiet protest at stayed in the seats. And Councilmember Francisco Zermeño chose to interact with the protesters. The move backfired after a police accountability activists got in an argument with Zermeno that was caught on video.

Zermeno Gonsalez public comment
Hayward Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, right, having words with a police accountability activist in early March at Hayward City Hall.

Halliday’s inability to control dissent in the council chambers predates the current spate of protests. During the 2016 election Halliday was hounded for political reasons at several meetings by Hayward school boardmember Luis Reynoso and his acolytes for a belief that she was improperly running council meetings. When Reynoso loudly charged that Halliday could not address speakers during public comment, the mayor screamed, “I am the mayor!” On other occasions, Halliday has been known to cut off public speakers who she feels is disparaging her.

Current activists also appear to have noticed a pattern in Halliday’s response to conflict and are seeking to exploit the weakness. At recent meetings, a number of protesters have personalized their heckling and catcalls from the gallery by using Halliday’s name. They employed the same strategy against Hayward City Manager Kelly McAdoo, referencing her annual salary and suggesting she was flirting with a police officer before the meeting. The constant flow of comments appeared to unnerve the typically composed McAdoo.

Halliday’s solution to future protests and outbursts appears to include increased warnings and an escalation of punishment. An advisory warning was prominently projected on the screen over the council dais during the Mar. 26 meeting reminding audience members that willfully disrupting the meeting is a violation of the state penal code and “continued outbursts may result in arrest, in addition, to being charged with a misdemeanor.”

“Going forward, we’re going to demand compliance from all of us and all who attend these meetings and when we hear or see violations, I will use my authority as the presiding officer to address it,” said Halliday.

Among the possible prescriptions for restoring order, said Halliday, include, verbal warnings for interruptions, a reminder of the procedures for enforcement, a temporary recess, the clearing of the chambers, and removal of individuals by law enforcement.

Whether or not the new rules will actually work could be greatly tested sometime next month during a yet-to-be scheduled meeting, which will include a report from Hayward Police Chief Mark Koller. The Gonsalez Family and a large number of police accountability activists are expected to attended to again questions the city’s handling of the killing, while demanding for an independent investigation of the incident.