The growing and selective imperiousness of the current Bellingham City Council president, Roxanne Murphy, is troubling. Several times since having been handed the “presidential” gavel, Murphy has interrupted public comment, advising individuals to “stick to the issue” as if she is the arbiter of issue content. These are not people who are disrupting or slandering. To wit:
The City Council meeting of March 12th, at which time (video counter 4:57) Murphy called a point of order and admonished Jon Humphrey who was providing public comment on small cell antennae for the city of Bellingham. During this comment and as part of the description of the problem he mentioned the names of President Trump, State Senator Ericksen and Mr. Aijit Pai of the FCC. Murphy interrupted Humphrey in mid-presentation to tell him to “Please refrain from referring to people and please stick to your issue.” Humphrey, speaking in a calm and normal voice was merely contextualizing his statement on the small cell issue. Not much to reproach.
Prior to that in a February 2018 council session, Murphy admonished Josh Bowman, a homeless person, to “stick to the issue.” (His comment begins at the 15:15 mark of the video, the admonishment at the 17:07 mark.) After Bowman asks a simple question about why the mayor did not speak at the funerals of two homeless people who recently died, Murphy interjects in a clearly exasperated tone, “I need you to stick to the issue, please, not attack us.” Such is the mettle of Murphy to take on a homeless individual asking a simple question which merits an answer from city hall. Note Murphy’s use of the first person to establish need and a switch to the undefined imperial “us” who are being attacked.
These two incidents, in and of themselves, merely raise questions. However, when one looks at a similar incident that took place at the April 9th hearing on the accessory dwelling ordinance, there seems to be a larger problem: lack of consistency and judgment. Toward the end of the public hearing, Maureen Romain spoke from the podium to the council. At the end of her remarks (2.35.35 on the video counter) she began to speak directly to councilman Gene Knutson and admonished him for having left the dais while other citizen testimony was being presented. At first she took him to task for shaking his head when one individual began talking about racism. Romain interpreted this as a display of disagreement by the council member. How she got into his head is problematic. Then she chided him for leaving the chambers while another speaker spoke of racism and again offered her interpretation: “I thought it could possibly be prostate…” WHAT?
At this point, not a peep is heard from Murphy, who found Josh Bowman guilty of not “sticking to the issue” and “attack(ing) us.” One might imagine an instance of a man at the podium calling out Murphy (who has also left the dais during meetings) and saying, “it must be that time of the month.”
I have been attending council meetings for the last 15 years and there has been ample mention of names during public comment periods over those years, especially those that might be made in a complimentary way. Was this admonition to Humphrey due to the negative light in which he presented these individuals? Just what then is the council’s policy on mentioning names during public comments? Cannot residents of Bellingham, such as Bowman, call out elected officials for not taking action? And why the pass for Romain for her unjust and egregious attack against a long-time council member?
I visited the city’s website where I found no reference of any sort to a policy on this issue among the several topics on conduct of council meetings in the Guide to City Council Meetings. Perhaps there is some “double secret” (thank you Dean Wormer) set of guidelines in the council safe.
Consequently, these decisions to interrupt and admonish speakers appear capricious and call for an explanation and apologies. These three incidents give lie to the cautionary speech by Murphy at the beginning of these hearings and comment periods that call for a safe space for all to speak. “We love to hear all of your perspectives,” is what Murphy stated before the public comment period on March 12th. Maybe she should listen to her own words.