Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council Special Meeting held on Thursday night, June 15, 2023:
This special meeting – which lasted over three hours – had just two agenda items:
- Whether to remove Charles Schaefer from his volunteer role as Planning Commission Chair, for his recent actions involving recent homeless encampment(s).
- And whether to formally censure Councilmember Cydney Moore for the same actions.
Public Comments, Then More Public Comments
The meeting began with a robust public comments section, with community members coming out to make emotional pleas on either side of tonight’s topic. The public comments section was followed – immediately and notably – by a second public comments section, this one specifically regarding Charles Schaefer’s hearing. Many people took the opportunity to speak for a second time, saying essentially the same thing twice.
Comments were split, with people either vehemently defending or criticizing the actions of Schaefer and Councilmember Moore. Whichever side they argued on, all seemed to agree that change was needed in how Burien is dealing with the homelessness issue. There was much anger expressed on both sides. Here is the gist of what they said:
Schaefer has forgotten the needs of small business owners, and his actions have created a more dangerous situation for the homeless and everyone in the community. Several local business owners spoke movingly about how difficult it is to operate in Burien anymore, with harassment, theft, human waste, and the general unease people feel downtown now. They said he does not support the people of Burien. Another commenter said that the council as a whole is to blame for increased drug use and crime in the city.
The amount of city time wasted on this issue, it was said, is enough to warrant Schaefer’s removal. One speaker said that Schaefer actually talked three campers out of going into treatment for fentanyl addiction, undoing several days’ work by aid workers. It was said that he convinced the homeless to simply move locations, rather than get the addiction help offered to them.
Others said Schaefer and Moore shouldn’t be blamed or scapegoated in what feels like a witch hunt. They said that Schaefer didn’t do anything that could legally get him removed from his appointed position on the planning commission. They said he is a volunteer, who has been generously giving time to the community for decades, and is good at what he does. Punishing him would set a bad precedent. They said Schaefer & Moore only provided information, and did not force anyone to go anywhere.
Several people asked council to change the agenda for the meeting, to instead discuss accepting the money and pallets offered by King County in order to build an official homeless encampment (read our recent coverage here). They said talking about the actions of Schaefer and Moore was a waste of time, and that we shouldn’t be punishing the only people who have taken action to actually help the homeless population.
Speaking to the money from the county, one person reminded listeners that it wouldn’t be given without strings attached. It was mentioned that the city does not have adequate emergency services to support all the campers that the county wants to bring in. One spoke about a new camp on Ambaum Blvd. SW & 12th Ave, where campers are again living without access to services, and neighbors are upset.
Alluding to the city manager’s plan to keep spray paint under lock and key in an effort to reduce graffiti, one speaker, tired of lawlessness around the camp, said the homeless who don’t want to accept treatment should be locked up instead. Many asked for a rule of law to prevail. One homeless man apparently now carries an ax around town, and several people described incidents of harassment.
In Schaefer’s defense, one woman spoke multiple times on the ways he has helped the unhoused community. She said he is always helping homeless individuals with paperwork, including doing their taxes. It was clear that Charles Schaefer is a very generous and caring person, but the question is whether his actions in directing the relocation of the homeless multiple times was right. One speaker said we need to work with the agencies who are experts in this area, rather than making rogue decisions around this vulnerable population.
It was also pointed out that Mayor Sofia Aragon uses her gavel to silence people who are in opposition to her, but does not do likewise when she agrees with what they are saying, and that she should hold herself to a higher standard.
The Allegations and Schaefer’s Hearing
City Attorney Garmin Newsom II read out nine allegations against Planning Commission Chair Schaefer. Newsom pointed out that all of these allegations apply to both Schaefer and Councilmember Moore. They are as follows, taken directly from city documents:
- Providing false information to unhoused people (that they could reside on Burien property).
- Violating or causing the unhoused to violate Burien’s ordinances by sending, directing, or encouraging the unhoused to camp on Burien park property, which is a crime under Burien Municipal Code 7.30.110 (No person shall camp in any park area, including any park parking lot) and BMC 1.15.080 (The violation of any regulation is unlawful… any violation of this code shall constitute a misdemeanor).
- Interfering with the City Manager’s administration of Burien’s day-to-day operations and execution of City Council policies and objectives.
- Failing to avoid the appearance of speaking on behalf of the Planning Commission or the City of Burien without the Council’s authorization.
- Harming Burien’s reputation (Mr. Schaefer’s actions caused an increase in negative media coverage and other communications that inaccurately alleged that Burien was violating constitutional law and conducting unlawful sweeps).
- After speaking with the media, Mr. Schaefer failed to immediately notify the City Manager or Communications Manager about something that could impact or reflect negatively on Burien, its officials, staff, or its business.
- Contributing to, creating, or exacerbating the situation that harms Burien’s relationships with its partners, including King County and the King County Sheriff’s Office.
- Taking actions that undermine or attempt to undermine or thwart the council’s action, authority, decision(s), deliberation, discretion, or options concerning the unhoused.
- Engaged in activity that the Council would not permit to be unilaterally performed by staff or public.
Charles Schaefer had 20 minutes to give his defense statement. He said he always made it clear to the people he was working with that he was acting as a private citizen, rather than in his role as Planning Commission chair. He stated that he had always done his best to make sure that he was enabling the homeless individuals to comply with the law, and that technically the new location he had encouraged people to move to was adjacent to the city park, not actually in the park property itself, according to all the sources he could find online.
Schaefer was allowed to call a witness, so he asked City Manager Adolfo Bailon if his actions had interfered with Bailon’s work, and if so, how exactly. Put on the spot as he had not previously been informed he would be a witness, Bailon only said that yes, Schaefer’s actions had definitely interfered.
Schaefer also argued that “harming the city’s reputation” is subjective.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling countered this by clarifying that if it makes people not want to move to Burien, as he had seen recently, that counts as harming its reputation. Schilling also got a bit frustrated with Schaefer, demanding to know why Schaefer didn’t advise the homeless to do things that would actually help them, like going into treatment. Why did Schaefer advise them to move to a place that he knew they would just get moved from soon after? Schaefer did not answer the question beyond saying that drug treatment is shown to not be as effective when it’s forced.
It was stated again that every person in the camp had been offered shelter and services, and they declined. Councilmember Stephanie Mora said that it’s easier for people to accept the help of service providers if we make it harder for them to camp in the city.
Councilmember Sarah Moore said the council gave the homeless no other options. She said that Schaefer couldn’t have gone against council decisions since council had made no decisions regarding the campers.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia came to tears in his defense of Charles Schaefer, saying that the council should be spending their time creating solutions and options, not bullying people who have given their time and energy to the city for so many years.
The Verdict on Charles Schaefer
Deputy Mayor Schilling enumerated the allegations against Schaefer that he felt were reasons to remove Schafer from his appointed post, and council voted on each one. Without fail, each item passed in a 4–3 vote, with Schilling, Matta, Mora, and Mayor Aragon voting yes, and Garcia, Moore, and Sarah voting no. The allegations voted on and approved were numbers 2, 3, 6, 8, and 9, listed in full above.
Councilmember Cydney Moore’s Hearing Postponed, Indefinitely
After the above decision was made, Mayor Aragon called for a 5 minute recess, and when the meeting resumed, Deputy Mayor Schilling proposed that Councilmember Moore’s hearing be postponed indefinitely. Councilmember Matta spoke to the motion, stating that while commissioners serve at the pleasure of the council, councilmembers are publicly elected and it’s up to the people to decide who they want representing them on the council.
Moore expressed surprise at this motion, stating:
“Everything that Charles has done, I did too… I was right there with him.
“Censuring doesn’t really matter either way, I don’t really care… We’ve already done significant damage to our city.”
The indefinite postponement of her hearing was approved with 5 ‘yea’ votes, one nay (Mora), and one abstention (Cydney Moore).
- Download full agenda packet here.
- Watch video of the full hearing here.
- Five Burien Planning Commissioners Resign in Protest