[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff:]
To the Editor:
I attended Monday night’s Burien City Council meeting and it was an awful experience. For most of the meeting, I felt like I was at a cage fight, not a city meeting where important issues need to be discussed and decided. I have attended my fair share of Council meetings and this was by far one of the worst. I believe it broke down due to weak management of the room and a lack of enforcement of the rules of order and decorum.
I don’t know if she was having a bad night, or what, but the Mayor seemed very distracted and it did not appear that she was paying attention to what was going on in the room. She was fiddling with her phone, or with papers on the dais. She appeared to be unprepared for the meeting. She was often gazing down and away from the public. It made me wonder if she had better things to do than run the meeting.
The crowd was constantly interrupting with loud outbursts when councilmembers they didn’t like (primarily Councilmember Cydney Moore, but others as well) were speaking, yet the Mayor did nothing to control the mob-like behavior. People heckled speakers who did not agree with their viewpoint, they shouted at the councilmembers, and they were just plain rude to people in the audience. It was disgraceful and sometimes felt quite threatening.
As a final blow to civility and decorum, during the public comment section of the meeting, due to a lack of consistent time keeping on the part of the clearly distracted Mayor, the audience took over and began cutting off people who were speaking in support of helping those who were unhoused in the city by chanting loudly “TIME TIME TIME” when the one-minute clock had expired. Yet the Mayor did nothing to stop this blatant abuse until (coincidentally?) the moment when someone yelled “TIME TIME TIME” at a person who wanted the unhoused to be expelled from the city. She chastised that person and said she would run the clock, but instead, continued to let the person speak well past the 1 minute mark. I cannot speak to the motives of the Mayor, but it seemed that she clearly favored the one side over the other, instead of being neutral, which as the Mayor and “Chair” of the meeting, was her job.
In addition to the lack of management, the Mayor violated Council rules several times throughout the meeting. Unfortunately this appears to be a pattern that I’ve seen over many meetings. First, she denied a proper motion (that had been seconded) to amend the meeting agenda made by Council Member Sarah Moore, by ruling that it was improper to amend the agenda until after it was approved (which not only makes no sense, but is not the case as per Robert’s Rules of Order). Regardless, councilmembers followed her instruction and approved the agenda and then attempted again to amend it, at which point the mayor rejected the motion because the agenda had been approved! This is truly twisted logic, on the level of Alice in Wonderland. It was clear to everyone in the room what councilmember Sarah was trying to accomplish and if Mayor Aragon wanted her to handle it another way, this was an opportunity for her to instruct her fellow councilmember on the way she wanted it done, but she chose instead to foster the confusion and chaos.
As the meeting went on, Mayor Aragon consistently interrupted and spoke over Councilmember Cydney Moore, which is a clear violation of Robert’s Rules of Order and a sign of disrespect. Robert’s Rules are crystal clear on this point: when a member has been recognized, they may not be interrupted by another member. There are very few exceptions, and they require a Point of Order to be raised. Mayor Aragon never raised any Point of Order, but she continued to interrupt the councilmember time and again. Is this the kind of council we want? Where one person can dictate what is spoken and by whom?
In contrast to the Mayor’s lackluster performance on Monday, during the several minutes when she stepped out of the room and Deputy Mayor Schilling took over, the meeting became, for that time, much more orderly. The Deputy Mayor kept watch on the time, he politely stopped the speaker when the time was up, and he kept decorum. He was engaged and clearly paying attention to the speakers. Also in contrast was Councilmember Matta who spoke up to the crowd when they got particularly unruly and politely, but firmly, directed them to control themselves and remain civil. He also stepped in to inform a candidate of the inappropriateness of using public comment to announce or support their campaign.
I’d also like to recognize City Manager Adolfo Bailon for his calmness and his very clear and organized manner during the Q&A section of his report. He clearly came to the meeting prepared and he answered all the council’s questions as clearly as possible, and was not shy when telling the council that what they were asking for was unconstitutional, therefore the city could not enforce it. He refused to expose the city staff to any abuse, and took on the responsibility for expressing how the city had to respond to the events around it. He should be recognized for his ownership of the situation and for his careful attention to responding to all parts of the questions he was being asked.
The rules of order for our City’s meetings are important because they ensure that all members of a body have an opportunity to participate in the discussion and have their voice heard. It bothers me to see the rules of order so blatantly violated to the extent that only the “approved” voices are permitted to speak. The continued dismissal of Robert’s Rules makes the meetings hectic, chaotic, and hard to follow for members of the community.
Perhaps our Mayor might want to check in with herself and consider if this is the right position for her, or at least think about her capacity on any given day to run meetings in a productive way that allows all councilmembers the time and respect that we as voters bestowed upon them. There is no shame in admitting you are tired or distracted or too emotionally attached to a topic or too angry at a colleague to do the job. Deputy Mayor Schilling is there, at least in part, to take over when this happens, and he has demonstrated over time that he is competent to step in and run the meeting when this is the case.
I love living in Burien, and I’m glad I can support the city by serving on the Planning Commission and by attending and participating in council meetings where I sometimes share my personal opinions. It is important that council meetings remain a place where people feel safe to come and share their views, whether popular or not. Monday’s meeting did not fulfill this fundamental requirement.
– August Hahn
Burien Resident and Small Business Owner
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