‘Point of Order’ debate night reveals Burien Council enduring political split 1by Jack Mayne What was intended to be a simple discussion of how the Burien City Council wanted to spend $55,000 on how to provide care for homeless people in the city turned into a marathon battle filled with numerous “Points of Order” and contentious debate over some members believing their right to free speech was being curbed. The members never made the decision on how to spend the money on homeless persons this year. The Burien City Council did stir up the potentially contentious issue of allowing the car-owning homeless to live in their parked cars on the city’s municipal parking lot and also in tents in other city parks. A decision will await a city staff review and report at a later meeting. The night was reminiscent of a long ago time when then U.S. Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy put into popular lore the term ‘Point of Order’ during infamous Army hearings in the 1960s. Last fall during budget discussions, the Council increased homeless services money for by 25 percent to $55,000 for both 2015 and 2016.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier story reported other actions at Monday’s meeting – read that here.)
Vouchers for food An idea under consideration are gift cards and vouchers for food, but Councilmember Debi Wagner said she had concerns about these “because people trade them” for money or they can be used at some stores to buy cigarettes or alcohol. City Manager Kameron Gurol said the city could include safeguards for such services, including gift cards that can only be used for food purchases. But homeless advocate Lauren Berkowitz said people who are homeless have “no less right on how they spend their money” than anyone else, adding she found “that line of reasoning pretty offensive.” Other agencies make it a crime to sell food stamps and have people to enforce it, she said, which “is a much more effective way to do it than to say the bad acts of a few punish everybody.” [caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"]‘Point of Order’ debate night reveals Burien Council enduring political split 2 The city’s municipal parking lot is located on SW 151st near 8th Ave SW.[/caption] Homeless in cars At the start of discussions on how the Council wanted to spend the money this year, Councilmember Gerald Robison suggested looking at a “car camp lot” and said the municipal parking lot “has a very low utilization rate right now” and could be used. “The car camp lot is something we could put into effect very quickly and at very little cost,” Robison said. Councilmember Berkowitz said she “thought it was a great idea” for a vehicle camping lot and combining it with mobile showers or laundries, suggesting that would decrease the need for police to use the trespass ordinance and “decrease city liability.” Car camping is “outside the scope” of land use regulations, said Gurol, and would need more research by the city staff. “We don’t know if we have a significant population of homeless in cars that could use a homeless car park or if more of our homeless don’t have access to a vehicle,” Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta said, but wouldn’t mind the city providing if it was really needed. She suggested hiring a person trained in evaluating and helping the homeless population be available to find out what the needs really are and then next year begin providing money for added services. “Studying something is a good way to avoid doing it,” said Robison, adding that the police say there are people sleeping in cars on streets and utilizing an under used city facility. Berkowitz said she shared concern for knowing more about the people who might need services but “overriding that is that people are living without basic services and basic human rights” and recommended the city provide a tent encampment and car encampment facilities. “I am not in favor of car camping or overnight camping in the parks,” said Wagner. “This creates a lot of problems. ‘Point of Order’ Berkowitz said not giving direction to the city staff on spending money appropriated to help the homeless “is a wasted opportunity which this Council does a lot – discuss, do nothing.” At that point Mayor Krakowiak stopped Berkowitz, suggesting her comments about the Council doing nothing was negative and “using inflammatory language.” Berkowitz said that the Mayor was trying to “restrict my speech.” Then the Mayor began “checking in” with members to see if they agreed with her point of order ruling. Robison said Berkowitz’s “do nothing” comment was “an accurate statement of our process.” But Councilmember Steve Armstrong agreed with the Mayor that it was a negative statement. “So negative is now how we decide inflammatory?” asked Berkowitz. “I just want to clarify for the lawsuit that will be coming when somebody says this is unconstitutionally vague. I think this is very high risk for the city, I just want to make sure this is on the record.” No vote was taken, but it appeared to be four members agreeing with Krakowiak’s ruling on Berkowitz’s comment. Confusion reigns “I would just like to say that I have no further comments because it is very clear that the rules have been enacted to restrict my debate and speech unconstitutionally under the speech and debate clause and I object to this entire line of rules and there is actually nothing I can say that will be interpreted fairly.” Tosta said she was frustrated with how difficult it was to get things discussed, adding she does have questions on the homeless issue. “Point of order,” said Berkowitz. “I’m wondering how somebody else gets to say something negative and nobody objects.” Silence in the room until Krakowiak says “Council?” More silence. “I haven’t heard a decision from the chair,” said Robison finally. The Mayor said Tosta made her comments in a “non-inflammatory way.” Berkowitz wants a Council vote. Krakowiak seems confused, asks “somebody help me out with this parliamentary procedure.” The city manager said she could call on each Council member. Armstrong said he didn’t think Tosta’s comments were inflammatory, and Robison said the comments were “no more inflammatory than Councilmember Berkowitz’s were.” Others agreed. More confusion as Robison withdrew his second to Wager’s motion to end the discussion on the homeless issue, and the Mayor ruled enough members agreed. So the motion had no second. The Mayor seconded the motion to end the debate for the night. ‘Point of Order!’ Robison commented he had “come around to agree with Councilmember Berkowitz’s opinion that …” “Point of order,” said the Mayor, wanting Robison not to use a member’s name under Robert’s Rules of Order. Robison said, “I don’t believe that was covered under Robert’s Rule of Order,” then he sat back silently with a smile, not withdrawing his use of her name. Armstrong said he felt “we are having trouble getting traction” and suggested that the discussion had gone on long enough. The issue of homelessness services is not going away, he said, but “perhaps we need more time to analyze it …” Wagner said she wanted to end the discussion because she wants to get to other issues on the agenda. “I think that if people were to spend less time trying to talk me and some other Council members into voting for a car camp and taking away restrictions in parks overnight and directed questions to staff or wanted to get specific things done the we would not be here …” ‘Point of Order!!’ “I would like to protest this testimony as questioning the motives of Councilmembers …” Krakowiak agreed with Berkowitz’s point of order. So, back to voting on the motion. “What motion is that?” asked a confused Armstrong. “The motion is to end the discussion for tonight,” said the Mayor. Tosta, Berkowitz and Robison wanted to keep on debating but Krakowiak, Armstrong, Edgar and Wagner voted to end the debate. Then Robison moved to have the city staff come up with costs of using the municipal parking lot for car and tent camping. Berkowitz wanted to amend it to include all types of locations in the city. Gurol suggested a slower approach to the car and tent camping problems, because these activities “are not simple.” He wanted Council direction on spending the already allocated $55,000 in homelessness funds and to look into the more complicated car and tent camping later. Tosta said the way the money is to be spent includes whether or not the Council wants to approve car and tent camping, so she considers “it an alternative to how the $55,000 is spent.” Points of Order Again Wagner said her husband has a homeless car camp behind his Seattle workplace and “so the crime rate has doubled, the odor has doubled, the garbage has quadrupled” and that the costs Seattle a lot of money to clean it up …” “Point of order,” said Berkowitz, her comments are not “germane to the subject.” Krakowiak ruled the point of order was not correct and that Wagner’s comments were appropriate. The members voted 4-3 that the comments were relevant. Another point of order came from Wagner over what she said was Robison’s questioning of her motives. Confusion reigned. The Mayor banged her gavel saying people should talk one at a time. She agreed with Wagner’s point of order. Robison appealed. Armstrong said he was thoroughly confused and wasn’t going to decide who was right. Berkowitz said it is embarrassing that we can’t get anything done under these conduct rules. ‘Really Ridiculous’ “Point of order me all you want, I think it is really a shame that the facts that this conversation was supposed to be how we spend money for human services funding has been completely hijacked by procedural rules – it is really ridiculous,” Berkowitz said. “It is really a shame that the public does not get to hear any dissenting opinions.” In the end, the Council did not vote on Robison’s motion for the city to come back later with a report on costs and effects of car and tent camping on the municipal parking lot. The amended motion failed 3-4 on a Council vote, and then the original motion failed 3-4 on another vote. Even the final motion to adjourn took four times to decide because of problems with the electronic voting machine, but finally the long night of “Point of Order” was over.]]>