Council Public Comment Period Of September 21st Now Belongs To The Ages

The first iteration of public comments, separated from City Council meetings, went off in relative calm.

The first iteration of public comments, separated from City Council meetings, went off in relative calm.

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• Topics: Bellingham, Open Government,

 [Update as of 3pm, September 21st:  The video of the public comment session is now available on YouTube courtesy of HomesNow . One wonders how long it will be tolerated because the contents of some of the comments on this video are just like those that got the city council meetings removed by YouTube… false info on COVID.]

The public comment session of September 21st, the first that has been divorced from an actual council meeting, is now in the ether, as the city did not record it.  (See city council Action Summary of  September 13, 2021) Unless some enterprising individual or organization recorded the session, the proceedings now exist only in the minds of the attendees.  The only remnant of the public comment meeting was the useless one page agenda packet on the council's website.  One positive note was that the attendees were, if they chose to be, visible to others through their computer cameras.  And the three sacrificial lambs of City Council in attendance (Lilliquist, Stone, and Huthman) were visible to the public for the entire process, one which would prove to be difficult at times. 

The meeting lasted just over one hour.  It began with several citizens praising the drug Ivermectin for treating COVID-19, as if the City Council has a hand in the matter.  Others spoke to the issue of homelessness and yet others to the usual panoply of issues that used to come before the full council and consequently the public.   The number of attendees varied at times but was consistently in the high 30s as people came and went.  The number included staff and the council members themselves.  Whether the public was there merely out of curiosity was difficult to determine but perhaps 50% of the attendees spoke at one time or another.

Invective flew about at various times with the adolescent use of profanity - grammatical variations of “fuck” and one “asshole.”  Profanity-users were, surprisingly, allowed to continue their rants. Council members remained calm  as they were verbally assaulted.  I heard one somewhat vague threat in one set of comments. One commenter was continually interrupted as a fellow attendee periodically activated his/her microphone and laughed like a hyena.  The commenter was quickly dispatched to computer limbo by the technical moderator.  This behavior will not go very far in convincing the council to return public comments to its former spot in the City Council meeting agenda but I imagine this thought has not occurred to the perpetrators who remain dim to the actual effect of their middle school comportment.

Identifying exactly who was speaking was at times difficult.  Those who did not turn on their videos were represented by a black screen with the individual's name in white letters.  The problem is, not everyone used their full names so we had first names or initials along with an occasion mystery guest such as Owner, Communism Will Win, and Seymour Butts. The council moderator, Hannah Stone, asked speakers for their full names but the response was often inaudible to me.  

As the meeting wound down, there was actually a give-and-take between some members of the public and the council members present.  One commenter referred to County Council meetings where council members, at times, respond to public comments on the spot.  He suggested that City Council not be so reticent in doing the same. The suggestion did not create wild acceptance among the council members.

A Herald reporter, Robert Mittendorf, actually attended but his motive was not apparent.  He did not speak.  One assumes he will pen an article.  

I maintain, as I have said in several articles (see below) that public comment must remain an integral part of City Council meetings which I am certain attract more than the 30 people who came to this new version of commenting on the 21st.

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About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Michael Lilliquist

Sep 21, 2021

There will be minutes for this public meeting, which mostly just list the speakers and  the topic that each addressed. This is how it was done for regular council meetings as well.

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Douglas Gustafson

Sep 21, 2021

HomesNOW recorded a copy, here it is:
https://youtu.be/mDNGzIrjGi8

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Dick Conoboy

Sep 21, 2021

 Michael,

Thanks for the clarification.

 

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Dick Conoboy

Sep 21, 2021

Doug,

Thanks.  That will work for those with Facebook accounts.  Is there any website available where everyone can open the link? 

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Douglas Gustafson

Sep 21, 2021

The link I just left was the Youtube Link, which doesn’t require any kind of account. 

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Amanda Fleming

Oct 01, 2021

I only just listened to two of the commenters on the YouTube video, then couldn’t take any more, and I don’t know how the council stands it either or why they should.  Both were advocates of the worm and lice medication to treat Covid.  One of them said that ivermectin had won the “noble prize” (it did actually win the Nobel prize, for treatment of parasites) and accused Pinky Vargas of being the one laughing at her (Vargas was not present).  I assume YouTube will eventually put this video out of its misery as it did the other Covid-crazy ones.  This kind of thing does not help the cause of those who want the public comment session restored during regular meetings.  I have long thought that public comments should be restricted to those subjects within the Council’s scope of concern. 

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Dick Conoboy

Oct 02, 2021

Amanda,

I agree that the comment period I have described above contained mis-information and more than enough of adolescent behavior.  However, the public comments are a reflection of what is going on around us, that is the spread of mis-information, the lack of courtesy in discourse and governments/representatives ignoring their constituencies.  Bellingham is not immune.

Let’s say that public comments were to be restricted in some way.  What would those criteria be in deciding this appropriateness?  What is and is not within the council’s scope of concern?  Today’s issues cross all sorts of political, social and geographic lines.  Ivermectin for example is a product with a legitimate use and bought by those who own animals who need to be de-wormed.  Is this a product sold locally?  Is it being bought and sold here for off-label use?  Is this a problem for people in Bellingham?  Should the council look into that?

Where then is the line?

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Amanda Fleming

Oct 02, 2021

Dick:  You seem to want to play devil’s advocate here.  You stated above:  “It began with several citizens praising the drug ivermectin for treating COVID-19, as if the City Council has a hand in the matter.”  The Council has no authority regarding the use of ivermectin, or a great many other things.

The statement on the Council’s web page says that “The City Council is the legislative body, responsible for setting public policies, adopting long-range plans, approving the budget and taxes, and passing laws.”  Implicit in this statement is “for the City of Bellingham.”  Obviously the City Council of Bellingham cannot pass laws or set policies for Blaine, Spokane, the State of Washington, etc., etc.  The appropriateness of public comment should be determined by whether or not the Bellingham City Council has any ability to affect the issue, or as you said, “have a hand in the matter.” 

By the reasoning you describe above, the  Council should “look into” almost any issue that could possibly affect the city in any way, whether or not they could do anything about it.  This would include almost everything.   People may and do have many legitimate concerns about many things, but are the City Council meetings there as a public soapbox for issues not related to their duties?   Many people may be concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, but what could the City Council do about it?  The City Council cannot deal with every issue in the country, nor should they try.  People do not need to waste the Council’s time, and the time of citizens, focusing on issues that are not within the Council’s ability to influence, in order to have a soapbox for their views.  I recall one past regular commenter who attended every meeting and used the allotted time to talk about his psychological issues and cry.  Was it important for the Council to be aware of his problems?  Should they have looked into them?  After all, other people in Bellingham may have had those same problems.

Finally, there is the issue of time for both the Council and citizens.  There are many, many issues which do directly concern the City of Bellingham, and which the Council does in fact “have a hand in.”  People who use the public comment period to discuss issues which are not within the purvue of the City Council inevitably take time away from those who wish to comment on issues which are or may be before the Council.

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Dick Conoboy

Oct 02, 2021

Amanda,

Yes.  I am the devil’s advocate.  But if this comes up for discussion again in front of the council, we will have things to present to them because we will have thought about it.  And I don’t disagree with much of what you said.  Thanks.

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