Harford County Council President Richard Slutzky has issued a stern warning to a county resident about his use of "insulting and inflammatory language" during the public comment portion of a previous meeting, noting he would not be allowed to address the council in the future if he uses that type of language again.
"Unfortunately, at our last council meeting on [Feb. 21], Mr. John Mallamo, a citizen who often addresses this council, chose to use a word that was totally unacceptable in public discourse," Slutzky said during the council's session Tuesday night.
Mallamo, a Bel Air resident, is a regular speaker at council meetings. He often takes council members to task when they take positions on legislation he feels favors developers or well-connected people in Harford County.
During the Feb. 21 meeting, Mallamo used a racial slur during the time citizens are permitted to speak.
In a reference to Black History Month, which is celebrated every February, Mallamo reflected on civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s remarks during the 1963 March on Washington.
King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech that day, laying out his dream of a future when his children and others "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Mallamo told those at the meeting, "[King] ... did not ask for special treatment and he rejected the 'best he can' because he knew ... in that era — and this may be offensive — but the best he would ever expect, regardless of the station that he achieved, regardless of the dignity he preserved, regardless of the challenges he overcame, the best he could be was just a n— ... He rejected that and he compelled the nation to treat him ... and all those that were with him ... to enjoy equal opportunity."
Mallamo's appearance was live-streamed over the Internet and recorded for replay on the county-run Harford Cable Network, as are all council proceedings.
Slutzky did not stop Mallamo the night he spoke, nor did he admonish him when he sat down.
Slutzky noted at this week's meeting, however, that he had since heard from those who attended the meeting as well as those watching the live stream were offended by Mallamo's choice of words.
Slutzky referenced the council's rules of procedure regarding public participation: "Insulting or inflammatory language shall, at all times, be avoided in addressing members of the Council or in referring to any officer or employee of County Government," according to the rules, which are available on the county government website.
"The President, voluntarily or upon the motion of the Council, may censure any member of the public for a violation of this Rule. The President shall order the removal of any person who disrupts the business of the Council after warning."
The Feb. 21 council meeting was attended by about 40 people, including members of Bel Air Boy Scout Troop 564, their leaders and parents. The rest of the council meeting lasted less than 27 minutes.
Ruth Ann Young, a former member of the Aberdeen City Council who, like Mallamo is a regular attendee of County Council meetings, was in the audience Feb. 21.
"I did think it was inappropriate, what [Mallamo] had said," Young said Thursday.
Young said she approached Councilman Curtis Beulah, who represents the Aberdeen and Havre de Grace areas, after the meeting and told Beulah she thought Mallamo's language was "totally inappropriate."
"I think it caught the audience totally by surprise," she recalled.
Young spent eight years on the Aberdeen council, until she stepped down in 2015. She attended County Council meetings then as an informal liaison from the city, and she still attends the meetings.
"I don't think that I've ever heard anyone speak in terms like that," she said.
Beulah, the only African-American member of the seven-member, all Republican County Council, is just the second African-American to sit on the council and the first to serve in 30 years.
He called Mallamo's use of the racial slur "unacceptable."
"He crossed the line," Beulah said Thursday. "He could have found a better way to make his point."
"He has a right to freedom of speech, but there are just certain words and phrases that are unacceptable in the county chamber in general," Beulah said.
Jim Kennedy, of Forest Hill — a former editorial page editor for The Aegis and The Record — was attending the meeting with his 16-year-old son, Nick, and other members of Nick's Boy Scout troop, help the Scouts fulfill a requirement to earn their Citizenship in the Community merit badges.
Kennedy said Wednesday that Mallamo's use of a racial slur was "absolutely poor taste," but he also noted he was exercising his right of free speech at a public meeting.
"I disagree with what he did but he had every right to do it," Kennedy said. "I think it was uncalled for, the way he did it."
Slutzky declined to comment further Thursday. He referred back to what he said at Tuesday's meeting and the council rules.
"[Slutzky] has my full support in the action that he took," Beulah said.
Mallamo, who was in the audience when Slutzky delivered the warning Tuesday, declined to comment when asked to by an Aegis reporter after the meeting.
He did, however, talk with Councilmen Patrick Vincenti and Curtis Beulah, who sit next to each other on the dais, following Tuesday's meeting.
Beulah could be overheard telling Mallamo he could have used a different word to make his point and that "just the word itself" is offensive.
Mallamo replied that Dr. King "moved the nation away from that language."
Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this report.