Palo Alto City Council Proposal Would Make Frowning Off-Limits

April 7, 2003


By Nicole C. Wong
San Jose Mercury News

Palo Alto may need to call in the Demeanor Police.

The city council is wrestling with a code of conduct that urges elected officials not to roll their eyes. Or shake their heads. Or frown.

Experts say the council’s plan to discourage non-verbal forms of “disagreement or disgust” is odd, unenforceable and almost an infringement on free speech.

“It’s just bizarre,” says University of Kansas Professor Burdett Loomis, who specializes in political civility. “You’d be thinking all the time, ‘What expression do I have on my face?’ ”

He adds: “When is someone frowning? Maybe that’s their ordinary look.”

Palo Alto is the last city in Santa Clara County without a handbook on city council do’s and don’ts, according to Mayor Dena Mossar.

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