At least two city council members think more rules changes may be needed after an unruly and chaotic public hearing in council chambers on Monday night.
Before the hearing, Councilmember Kshama Sawant held a pre-meeting rally with staffers distributing flyers and posters, which were carried into council chambers by supporters.
The attendees repeatedly booed, hissed at opponents of the tax, and chanted. It prompted Councilmember Sally Bagshaw to suspend the hearing and have security escort everyone outside the chambers.
“I would say disappointed, frustrated is one word, disappointed is my overall feeling,” said Bagshaw on Wednesday, just before holding a second meeting on the topic. “There was a group that wanted to take over the council chambers,” she said. “That kind of lack of civility creates a problem where it promotes us versus them.”
Bagshaw hasn’t said how she feels about the tax, which would raise $75 million for housing and homeless services. But the issue has always been a priority during her decade on the council, and she says, in her prior career as a King County prosecutor.
“We just aren’t getting it right,” she acknowledged. “I see people every day who don't have family or don't have resources and are out alone, and getting them inside is the moral issue of our time.”
“I think it was really confusing that at why it got to the point that it did,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who is co-sponsoring the legislation along with Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez, Mike O’Brien, and Teresa Mosqueda. “I don’t understand why some people decided it was appropriate to shut down the meeting.”
In fact, Herbold stepped off the dais to confront Sawant. The two councilmembers had an animated discussion, caught by cameras.
“I basically asked her to go talk to them, and ask them not to stop chanting and clapping but to limit it,” said Herbold. “She did not want to do that.”
Sawant is widely expected to back Herbold’s legislation, making the situation more curious.
She says the Council adopted new rules to try and anticipate the chaos, including new rules to limit the amount of people allowed to sit in the chambers at one time. The Council has also banned people deemed to display threatening behavior.
“I think more clarity around what our expectations are and what we think of as a disruption and what an interference with other people's free speech looks like,” added Herbold.
She says this latest disruption stopped even Sawant’s allies from having a voice.
“For the first time in my life I had signed up to speak to the Council,” wrote one Magnolia resident to the Council, in an email provided to KING 5. “To my dismay and disappointment the hearing devolved into unruly chanting such that the Chambers were cleared and the 'open meeting' was shut down. I left without being able to speak about why I am in favor of the EHT. Ironically, the rabble rousers prevented me from speaking in favor of the very outcome we both desire. I urge the Council to find a means that honors everyone’s right to speak, not just the loudest and most unruly. In particular, Council Member Sawant: educate your 'followers' about the democratic process and how it depends on respect and civility.”
Sawant declined an interview request on Wednesday.
The second meeting Wednesday, led by Bagshaw, went off without a hitch. Sawant was mostly silent, frequently staring at the floor during public testimony.