(Updated 9/28 8:00pm. See below)
Whew. Well that happened.
First, let’s get the bizarre stuff out of the way: knowing that the Mayor was going to give his budget speech this afternoon at the start of the 2:00pm Council meeting, people started lining up at 11:00am and were given numbered cards if they wanted to sign up to speak during public comment. But the Mayor had a pre-speech reception for his staff and invited guests in the Bertha Knight Landes Room, and before any of the people waiting in line had an opportunity to go in, his staff and guests were escorted upstairs through a back staircase and filled all the seats in Council Chambers. So none of the people who had waited for hours were allowed into the room — they were all forced to watch in the overflow room downstairs. They were, in a word, pissed. Their chants could be heard all the way upstairs in Council Chambers.
They still got to watch the speech, which was also televised on the Seattle Channel and streamed live over the Internet. It would be difficult to argue that their right to transparent government meetings was violated. But as a practical effect, their opportunity to disrupt the Mayor’s speech, which some of them clearly intended to do, was circumvented.
The “optics” of the way it was handled was terrible. Local media were already stationed in Council Chambers when the city staff and guests were let in, so they witnessed the whole thing, and the irony of embattled Murray arranging to deliver his budget address to an audience stacked with his own supporters was not lost on them.
No one bothered to tell any of the people waiting that they wouldn’t be allowed into the main room until just before the Mayor’s speech started; they found out over Twitter from reporters in the room. Council member Sawant made a motion from the dais to open up the room’s back doors and let people stand in the back. Let’s be honest: her reason for doing this was as much about getting her grassroots supporters in the room to demonstrate for her cause (permanently killing the North Precinct project and redirecting the money to build 1000 units of affordable housing) as it was for granting more people access. Only Council member O’Brien backed her motion, while all the other Council members voted to keep the doors closed. The Mayor was escorted in, delivered his speech uninterrupted, and left. Most of his staff departed immediately after, and then people signed up for public comment were allowed upstairs into Council Chambers for the remainder of the meeting. A long, angry public comment session followed, and then the Council finally settled down to business.
Out of all this, four questions will be litigated in the court of public opinion in the coming days:
- Does the public have a right to watch their elected officials conduct business “in the flesh?”
- Does the public have the right to disrupt government proceedings that they believe are no longer faithful representations of the people’s interests?
- Did the Mayor further tarnish his less-than-stellar reputation this afternoon by staging his own speech with an entirely friendly audience?
- Has the Council exceeded its tolerance for the recent spate of disruptions to its meetings, and decided to take a hard line? If so, are they justified in doing so?
UPDATE 9/28/16 8:00pm: An earlier version of this post claimed the people let into the Council Chambers were all city employees. Benton Strong, spokesperson for the Mayor, contacted me to let me know that they were not all employees; there were other invited guests as well. Says Strong: “The education summit advisory group was there, as were folks involved in other issues related to the budget, including service providers, arts community, HALA stakeholders, minimum wage workers, Seattle Youth Employment Program youth, some folks the administration has been working with on male black achievement and many others.”
On to the rest of the business.
Mami Hara was confirmed as the new Director of Seattle Public Utilities by a 9-0 vote. Her confirmation process had been an easy layup, and the unanimous vote was expected.
The resolution approving Mayor Murray’s plan to complete the cleanup of the EDGE (aka the “Jungle”) passed by a vote of 6-3, with Sawant, Herbold and O’Brien voting against. Certainly no one believed the plan was perfect, but the three Council members who voted against expressed their belief that it didn’t reach the bar of what the city should be doing and that it sent the message that this level of response was acceptable — a message they didn’t want to send while simultaneous negotiations are underway on an ordinance to set the cleanup protocols for unsanctioned encampments across the city.
The ordinance reducing speed limits on the city’s unposted residential and arterial roads passed 9-0. Seattle’s speed limits are now the same as every other city in King County.
The resolution endorsing the Drive Clean Seattle initiative also passed by a 9-0 vote, as did the Freight Master Plan.
The Mayor’s budget plan, as he outlined it today, contains a long laundry list of items. I will write that up separately.