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Self-proclaimed public advocate blocked from speaking at council meeting

Legal war might have been declared at the Oct. 22 O’Fallon City Council meeting.

Mr. Arnie A.C. “AC” Dienoff has spoken for years during O’Fallon City Council meetings. Saying he is an O’Fallon resident, he only gives a Post Office Box as his address. He always introduces himself as a public advocate and activist and usually mentions one of the things he is running for, such as council member or mayor. 

Wording on the ball cap he wears while he is speaking and recording himself on his own device set on the podium usually states something such as “Dienoff City Council” or “Dienoff Mo. Lt. Governor,” although he does not currently hold any elected office.

Arnie Dienoff addresses the council Oct. 22 (O’Fallon TV image)

Dienoff speaks regularly and frequently during the “citizens comments” segment of council meetings, as well as during nearly every public comment segment for bills of all types. At up to 5 minutes for each opportunity, Dienoff can log as much as 30 to 45 minutes of council meeting time just for his comments.

In his remarks, Dienoff frequently has named specific elected officials and city staff members and targeted them with accusations, including personal attacks and insults. Those actions are contrary to existing rules of decorum established in the city charter. 

While certain comments could be viewed as slander or defamation, with possible legal remedy if the targets choose to pursue them, such cases frequently are difficult to prove and in general have First Amendment ramifications to overcome.

However, as of its Oct. 8 meeting, the council and mayor appear to have had enough. Suspending the normal rules, the officials conducted a first and second reading of Bill No. 7252 to amend the city’s Code of Ordinances Section 110.200 regarding addressing the city council.

As a result of those changes, persons interested in a bill or other council agenda item still will be given an opportunity to be heard during the public comment portion of each meeting; however, speakers must only address topics that are included on that meeting’s agenda.

As specified in the approved bill, all remarks must be addressed to the council as a body and not to any individual member. No question can be asked of a council member except through the presiding officer.

Each speaker addressing the council will limit their address to 3 minutes unless additional time is granted by the council.

If a speaker does not address or ceases to address an agenda topic, or does not follow the rules, the presiding officer (e.g. mayor), or any council member may raise a “point of order,” addressing whether the correct procedure is being followed. If the point of order is accepted, the balance of the speaker’s time will be forfeited.

By a majority vote of the council members present, the council may withdraw the opportunity for public comment at a given meeting, providing there has been at least one opportunity for public comment prior to such action.

The council unanimously approved Bill No. 7252 on Oct. 8.

At the next council meeting on Oct. 22, there were no public hearings scheduled for any bills. For citizen comments, Dienoff was the only speaker signed up for time. 

Prior to Dienoff entering the council chamber, Mayor Bill Hennessy read the rules. When Dienoff was at the podium, but before he started speaking, Hennessy reminded Dienoff about the rules.

Dienoff did not acknowledge the rules, instead, he started by asking why the city’s 911 emergency dispatch system was down recently. Hennessy stopped Dienoff by reminding him that only council meeting agenda topics were to be addressed. To which, Dienoff pushed back, saying: “I disagree. This is a matter of public safety. I’ll see you in federal court.”

Dienoff then said he wanted “to talk about public comments, that was on the agenda, and how the new rules are illegal, unconstitutional and discriminatory.”  Hennessy again stopped Dienoff, saying that was not an agenda item, and this was his second warning.

Dienoff continued speaking about the rules. Hennessy then called an immediate 5-minute recess and the entire council got up and left the room.  When the meeting resumed on O’Fallon TV, Dienoff was no longer in the chamber.

For the next 42 minutes, as the meeting progressed through numerous reports, bills and resolutions, Dienoff could be heard yelling – loudly enough to be heard on the “live” broadcast of the council meeting on O’Fallon TV – outside the City Hall building, near windows. Specific words were not audible on the livestream. The mayor and council did not acknowledge or show in any visible way that they heard Dienoff. 

In recent years, Dienoff has run for lieutenant governor, city council Ward 1, the Fort Zumwalt School District Board of Education, the St. Charles County Ambulance District Board, the O’Fallon Fire District Board, the St. Charles Community College Board, the Ambulance District #2 Board, and other positions. He did not win any of those votes.

Recently, he announced plans to run for mayor of O’Fallon during the April 6, 2021, general municipal election. 

In addition, Dienoff has been active in court cases. The Missouri Courts’ case.net database lists 58 cases during the past 16 years in which he was a plaintiff or defendant in St. Charles County (SCC) or St. Louis County, under the names Arnold Dienoff, Arnie C. Dienoff, and A.C. Dienoff.  He was the plaintiff in about half of those cases. 

In the 25-plus cases where he was the plaintiff, the person suing someone else, he lost all but one case. In that case, he had been told by the SCC Election Commissioner that he could not have his name on the ballot for more than one elective office concurrently. The Missouri Supreme Court decided in his favor. In many of the cases he lost, he was assessed court costs and fees.

According to case.net, he was the plaintiff in two lawsuits this year, one against the city of O’Fallon and another against the county’s Director of Elections. Both cases were dismissed by the court.

Currently, Dienoff is the defendant in an open case (MU-00035) for the charge of Disturbing the Peace. The plaintiff is the O’Fallon Municipal Court. The case was filed Sept. 9, 2020, and currently is scheduled for hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, by Judge Ted House in St. Charles County Circuit Court.

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