Port Angeles City Council deadlocks on disruption rules

Patrick Downie

Patrick Downie

PORT ANGELES — City Council members can’t get a handle on handling residents who disrupt meetings.

The council’s meeting Tuesday spilled into two meeting extensions that stretched beyond the 10 p.m. council meeting limit set by ordinance before they adjourned at 10:30 p.m. — without changing or eliminating a word in their rules of procedure on audience disruptions.

“It’s back to first base,” Mayor Patrick Downie sighed shortly before calling the 4½-hour marathon to a close.

The disruption issue dates back to a boisterous Feb. 2 City Council meeting with numerous speakers.

Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd abruptly adjourned the meeting during sharp comments directed at four City Council members — including Kidd — for supporting city water fluoridation.

Her cutoff of a public-comment speaker led to four ethics complaints against all seven council members, including Kidd.

An ethics board recommended City Council discipline against her, but the council decided against the suggested verbal admonition.

The other complaints were dropped or found to be without merit.

At the City Council’s Sept. 6 request, City Attorney Bill Bloor addressed council concerns that existing rules of procedure on audience disruptions and political signs might violate the First Amendment.

In a five-page Sept. 20 memo, Bloor said the rules are legal.

That’s because the rules cite examples of disruptive conduct that is prohibited “only when the conduct does cause the actual disruption of a council meeting,” he said in the memo.

The advice from the council’s lawyer did not deter council members from wrestling with the rules anyway Tuesday, as they have in prior meetings.

But in a twist, Kidd, who favors fluoridation, played a key role in keeping the existing rules in place by voting with fluoridation foes Lee Whetham, Michael Merideth and Sissi Bruch against a compromise solution offered by Councilman Brad Collins.

Collins had called for removing 10 words from the procedures that cited booing and displaying signs as examples of disruptive behavior.

He offered it as an amendment to Bruch’s broader motion to drop all illustrations of disruptive behavior.

Bruch wanted to also eliminate “irrelevant or repetitious speech,” speaking longer than the time allotted, speaking after being ruled out of order and “other speech or behavior that disrupts the orderly conduct of the council meeting.”

Collins’ amendment failed 4-3.

Bruch’s motion subsequently failed by the same vote, leaving the council at a standstill on making any changes at all.

The tallies came after council members wrestled with the examples of disruption under which residents could be asked to cease their behavior or have further steps taken against them, such as having them removed from the room or adjourning the meeting and reconvening at another location.

“Who decides what’s disruptive?” Bruch asked, adding that the examples have “gotten us into more hot water than we need.”

Opposition to the illustrations centered on political signs and offensive language.

Cardboard and paper signs “are just words,” Whetham said.

“They are not going to hurt us, and it’s my opinion that they are protected by the First Amendment.”

Merideth said he was fed up with discussing the issue.

“We continue to beat the crap out of a dead horse,” he said. “This all needs to go.”

In offering his amendment to Bruch’s motion, Collins said signs should not be singled out and that the illustration citing their use as disruptive behavior could be interpreted as saying that even political pins could be disruptive.

He called for removing examples of audience demonstrations, the 10 words that said “such as booing, display of signs, or any other conduct.”

His amendment was supported by Gase.

“I don’t think there’s any problem or indication that signs are banned unless there is a true disturbance which affects our ability to act,” Gase said.

Gase voted with Collins, Downie and Kidd against Bruch’s motion, dooming it.

Collins was joined only by Gase and Downie, killing his amendment, too.

It was one of the first if only times that Kidd has joined Bruch, Whetham and Merideth in a 4-3 majority vote.

Kidd remained silent during the entire approximately hourlong discussion.

As she was leaving City Council chambers, Kidd was asked why she did not say anything.

She said she was tired of talking about the rules of procedure.

“We’ve discussed it ad nauseum,” Kidd said.

“I had nothing to add.”

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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