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YouTube’s Subversion Of The Bellingham City Council

Playing along with YouTube is a losing game for Bellingham. It is time to break the ties that bind … and blind.

Playing along with YouTube is a losing game for Bellingham. It is time to break the ties that bind … and blind.

{Note: A version of this article was sent earlier today to the Bellingham City Council, the Whatcom County Council, the Mayor of  Bellingham and the Whatcom County Excecutive.]

I began watching the discussion of the Bellingham City Council's YouTube “incident” on Monday afternoon's session of the committee of the whole  with great trepidation, and my trepidation was not for naught as I gritted my teeth throughout.  (Go to 1:42:00 on the video counter)

The chilling effect of the policies of a private company on the conduct of business of the City of Bellingham is complete, as sadly demonstrated by the nature of the back and forth at that meeting of the committee of the whole on August 2nd.  YouTube not only insidiously informs the content of our council meetings (We must admit it: who is not on tippy-toes now?), it penetrates the discussion of how, when, and why the council has public comments. But where was the discussion of the profound and lasting effects of THAT PENETRATION into our business? Where is the anger at this infringement? Lip service to the notion of freedom of speech is not enough. Those passing comments may assuage some of the viewers, however, the principal issue is left like a turd in a punch-bowl.  

YouTube IS that turd and its policies are THE problem, not only for public comment but for the entire set of committee and regular council meetings. What next will be the bete noire of YouTube to which we must conform? Who of those on the council might be the next to be called out by the YouTube inquisitors and for what reason? What next will be the topic(s) that are strictly verboten or only to be expressed in a certain fashion? We are now at the mercy not only of YouTube but of every nutcake and Bernardo Gui wannabe who doesn’t like the council content and makes an anonymous complaint to YouTube that then puts the council to the question but never listens to the answer.  

Will City Hall stand fast in the face of this bullying by YouTube or cower in a corner? It may take some effort but we can find and then join with other cities and counties who, after buying into the same quasi-dictatorial system of agenda management that led us to YouTube, want to fight this abuse. Remember Martin Niemöller’s statement about not speaking out:

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

There is a cost to freedom and it can be high, although not necessarily so. The presentation by the head of Bellingham’s IT department, Ms Mulholland, referred to “costs” to do our own video storage and playback; she gave no numbers but deftly inserted the FUD factor (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). One council member spoke of these costs and “how would they be offset?” but also did not specify a number. Did anyone look at the council site at Sioux Falls or talk to the IT folks in Sioux Falls as I mentioned in my article of July 24thThe Monumentally Moronic Mindlessness Of YouTube”?  Although Sioux Falls council meetings are on YouTube, the council meeting video recordings that are online at the city’s website look to me to be running on that website (siouxfalls.org). Council member Huthman asked a question about what other cities are doing, but the IT director dodged the question or did not understand it.  

As for the issue of the public comment period, incivility and unwillingness to abide or tolerate other points of view is rampant throughout the nation and infects our community. Its manifestation is not a stranger to public meetings of all sorts, including the city and county councils. Adolescent antics are now common among adults, (Read: We’re all teenagers now”) who are not likely to learn to behave more appropriately any time soon. Alternatives such as town halls may work in some circumstances. Council member Lilliquist spoke glowingly of such a meeting in Bellingham years ago. I remember it as being tightly controlled by the city and not having much effect, if any. If someone can name something that was accomplished as a result of that town hall, please remind me. Having public commenting for a half an hour prior to the meeting is also not a great remedy in that people will just not tune in for the first 30 minutes. Council member Knutson spoke about commenters playing to the camera. I am guilty as charged, having spoken dozens of times from the podium each year for the last 15 years or more on topics that were not getting any attention at all but did soon afterward, and codes were created and modified. Not only do commenters want to speak to the TV audience, they want to look individual council members in the eye. They want to see their reactions. Don’t we all?

Three years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Citizen/City Dialogue - A Myth”  In it I wrote this:

“Currently, there is no robust critique or questioning of what the council is told by the staff or so-called experts, especially those whose reason for being there is to make money or advance their own private interests. Incorrect, incomplete, outrageous, and contradictory information from different sides often goes unchallenged, either out of ignorance or due to malicious forethought. Uncorrected statements continue in the collective memory as memes to frame the discussion that follows.”

Public comment provides an effective and direct means to provide counter-arguments and introduce new issues. I provided other suggestions in my “myth” article and invite council members to read it, perhaps for the second time.  

Public commenting is not broken, the system is, and so is our reaction to it. Public comments are the manifestation, the symptoms. You can play Whack-A-Mole with the commenting period but those moles will dig away, out of sight. Getting rid of the commenting period will only indicate council's frustration, lack of thoughtfulness, and dearth of creativity.  

My suggestion about public comment as a temporary measure is to keep it, limit it to 10 speakers, and maintain its old time slot at the evening meetings. And in the meantime:

Divorce the city from YouTube!

Comments by Readers

Thomas R. Scott

Aug 05, 2021

This situation is the result of bad decisions on the part of the City Administration and allowed by the City Council.  It is truly hard to be charitable regarding this issue.  Going with YouTube was a lazy choice.  Gagging the ability of the Citizens of Bellingham disallowing them to petition their government is worse than lazy.

Simply put, there are alternatives to YouTube already available. There are services who are angnostic about content.

Aside from choking any ability to publicly petition our government, there are concerns regarding our State’s Open Meetings laws.  For the moment, the current City Council members are, shall we say, unlikely to say anything outside of any allowed narratives of YouTube or YouTube canon as to facts.  But, narratives change, canon of facts change and so do political winners and losers.  The membership will change over time (we are in the midst of an election process).  For that matter, YouTube’s canon and narrative acceptance changes over time and without public input or control.

So what happens when (not if) someone on the Council or City Administration says something that does not meet the narrative requirements of YouTube?  What happens when the narrative changes or new facts come to light changing what is later considered allowable canon?

What about any discussion upon which Council decisions are made or any decisions that are made on that record?  * Poof * , “not for you!”  Suddenly, what was an open door meeting is muted behind an electronic door slamming shut just as citizens come home to view the musings and decisions affecting their lives (where and how they live, what rights they may be afforded by the City, or no longer afforded by the City).

The videos, a matter of public record and subject to Open Meetings law, are suddenly  unavailable to the public!!!  That is NOT openness.  Even if it may somehow get past enforcement of the law or the State courts (who do not always uphold the letter of the law), that does NOT uphold the moral standard of openness to the public.

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Behnoosh Armani

Aug 06, 2021

The issue with YouTube must be a good solution for the Councils because they were tired of hearing the public comments being so negative towards them. First, they cut down the minutes and chose to allow commenters to be the anti-vaxxers filling up the 15 minutes. This seemed to work well for them shutting out everyone else. However, the consequence came back biting them in the you know where! Now, all of their meetings are barred from YouTube. Maybe, just maybe this was the plan all along - they knew what would happen and they allowed it to happen this way and now they’re blaming YouTube for it. I’m sure that by not having open meetings and by not allowing public comments as it was practiced before, they are setting themselves up for a law suit. There is no good reason that they are not meeting in person. Of course, their response would be that it’s because of Covid. Oh Yeah? How come these council members get to do everything else in public like the rest of us but they can’t meet in person? Bottom line, they don’t want to hear fromt the public and they know that a lot can be done behind closed doors because most of the public has no idea what is happening in their meetings. YouTube or not, they have options out there for recording their meetings and certainly they have options to be open to public comments and allow their constituents to be frank with them.

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Dick Conoboy

Aug 06, 2021

Benoosh,

The city (and by extension the council) has not been barred from YouTube.  One of the videos of a city council meeting was taken down by YouTube due to the comments of some citizens during the public comment period.  Several other videos were taken down by the city itself as they contained similar comments.  This was done as a preventive measure.  All of these videos are still available on an alternate site. 

I have no information that council is meeting face to face in another venue.  Individual council members can and to meet with citizens face to face or on Zoom.  I am meeting with a council member next Monday, face to face.  The council has to abide by state law and the governor’s directives about public meetings.  All the members of the council to whom I speak are eager to get back into council chambers.

If you have additional information indicating that the council is using COVID to eliminate or restrict commenting, then please let us know. 

 

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Gene Knutson

Aug 06, 2021

Behnoosh, I have been meeting in person since last March since i was vaccinated. I will meet anybody anytime just ask Mr. Conoboy we meet this Monday affternoon. I was one of 3 council members who voted to go back into chambers we lost that vote 4-3. I am ready right now.

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Dick Conoboy

Aug 16, 2021

I am oh so happy that YouTube deigns to declare nihil obstat to what our city council does. (See: Misinformation at public forums vexes local boards, big tech) unless YouTube, the Great Ozymandias of today, decides otherwise.  In retrospect we know his fate but what of YouTube and our connection to it now?  Time to cut ties with this private sector entity or be carried off to who knows where. 

 

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

— Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”[

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