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Our “Stick to the issue!” City Council President Needs to Chill

By On
• In Bellingham,

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.

About Dick Conoboy

Writer • 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

Jon Humphrey

Apr 18, 2018

Awesome article Dick! If we don’t have first amendment rights then we can’t defend any of or other rights. It’s time for an ethics committee with full subpoena power to look into the mayor and council.  For example, it’s easy to see how much Murphy wants to defend the anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms in the 7/24 video. When Murphy and Vargas gush all over CenturyLink. Then on the 12th Murphy goes out of her way to stop me from highlighting how dangerous these companies are to our democracy. I’d say it’s a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” situation and it’s time it was officially looked into. At the very least, she should be replaced as council president immediately. 

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Judith Green

Apr 19, 2018

Since I wouldn’t be allowed to say her name in the comment period of City Council meetings, I’ll say it here.  Roxanne doesn’t return phone calls or respond to emails from citizens.  It isn’t just me.  Ask anyone who has called or emailed her. Does she read comments or listen to messages, or delete them unseen and unheard? Isn’t responding to citizens part of the job description and  an expectation of people who are suppose to be representing us?   She may ‘love to hear all our perspectives”, but I’m not feelin’ the love.

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Susan Ryan

Apr 19, 2018

We need to coordinate our efforts because here in Tacoma we are suffering from the same attitude towards citizens.  In December our City Council voted to suspend our monthly public comment period  on issues unrelated to agenda items.  There was so much back lash, it only lasted a few months. 

We have new young CM openly bullying people with NIMBY ALERT comments on facebook pages.  Reporters calling residents selfish for not wanting their community destroyed by big box corporate landlords. It is quite remarkable the con being played out under the guise of affordable housing and the needs of the homeless. 

We post Dick’s articles on infill down here to help spread the word. 

 

 

 

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Dick Conoboy

Apr 19, 2018

 Susan,

Glad to hear you find my articles useful.  Your comments about Tacoma are disconcerting but fairly widespread.  I am reminded of an earlier article I wrote which you might find interesting.  Check it out here.

 

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Susan Ryan

Apr 20, 2018

Thanks Dick! 

Yes, I am familiar with Tacoma’s rental licensing program and find quite few rentals out of compliance. I recently did a PDR seeking a list of all the licensed properties to see the patterns. 

On a different topic the YIMBYS in Tacoma that proudly proclaim their title have permeated our city, The hypocrisy they display is astounding.  Do as we say, not as we do. 

Promoters of corporate  landlords in “high opportunity” areas. 

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Bill McCallum

Apr 20, 2018

 

I was also ignored by Roxanne Murphy.

I sent a Whatcom Watch questionnaire by email to all the City Council candidates that appeared on the 2017 general election ballot. I ask the candidates to please acknowledge receipt of the questions. I said I would phone them if I didn’t receive an response.

I didn’t receive a reply from Roxanne Murphy so I called five times, she ignored my first four messages. After the fifth phone message I received an unpleasant email from her. My interpretation of it: I’m an important person and I don’t waste my time on insignificent publications.

 

 

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Tim Paxton

Apr 20, 2018

Nice of the council mayoral candidates to continue to show their true contempt for the voters during the public comment period.   It  reflects the mayor and staff level of contempt of public.     Notice that none of the council egos even bothered to object  or pretend that the public should be allowed to speak without interruption.  Maybe they were busy texting each other?   All of them should resign and do the pubic a favor.

Gene and Terry probably pine for the good old days when council members could get up and walk out en masse if someone spoke who they didn’t like.   The cherry on top was arresting a Registered Nurse who dared to continue to speak to the chambers audience after the entire council had vanished.   

 

 

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Doug Lomas

Apr 20, 2018

In the city council era that suffered from mark Asmundson et al the the style was fairly similar to what  now seems to be similar with an extra shot or two of hubris judging by what I read citizen input in these  columns.

Where is it written that council persons have status higher than the supporters who vote them into office?   It is amazing nowadays how current are Shakespeare’s observations  along the lines:   Man vain man dressed in a little brief authority, doth such deeds before high heaven  as make the angels weep.

 Just think , I felt back then,  that we needed more women on council.

Look what we got ! They make the Asmundson gang look like amateurs in arrogance or thoughtful governance of our small town  in which council seem intent to treat the public like chickens to be squashed heartlessly into coops without space to turn around. 

Cover the green with concrete girls and boys  Not long before you “improve us” to slum standards.

Observer

 

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Dick Conoboy

Apr 21, 2018

Bill,

You are not alone in being ignored.  I have never had a response from Murphy from the day she took office.  In my conversations with friends and some of those close to the council I get similar reports.  Murphy’s excuse, according to these individuals, is that she has a full time job and does not have the time to answer.  Now that she is council president, she really has two full time jobs.  All of a sudden it is all manageable. 

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