The King County Council is tightening its rules for people who attend meetings and participate in public hearings, responding largely to a group of activists known to lambast the council during public meetings on the 10th Floor of the King County Courthouse.
According to the new rules passed unanimously March 30, the King County Council can exclude someone for disrupting meetings from all public meetings for up to 28 calendar days. Disruptions can include people talking after their allotted time during public comment periods, speaking loudly, talking about items not on the agenda or holding a banner that could block people from moving around the room or viewing the meeting.
The rules were created in response to people who were disrupting meetings, according to the council. Councilmember Jane Hague said at a meeting March 18 that the change would clarify the rules for those participating in meetings and “foster council’s ability to conduct [business] in an orderly, efficient and — should I say — a civil manner.”
While not named specifically, the new rules were tailor-made for members of StandUP-America, an open-government activist group that has become a mainstay at Seattle City Council and King County Council meetings. They’ve appeared at hundreds of meetings to openly criticize elected officials for being disconnected from the public. They’ve advocated for evening city and county council meetings so people who work during the day can attend.
The organization’s Alex Zimmerman appears at meetings with a red sign that says “StandUP-America” and he accuses the councilmembers of being Nazis, banditos and criminals.
Before the vote on March 30, Zimmerman denounced the rule changes as giving councilmembers too much power. He also provided an example of what type of speech the council is trying to curb.
“By definition, by law and common sense, you’re all criminals,” Zimmerman said, closing with a sarcastic Nazi salute and saying “Heil my dirty, fucking führers.”
StandUP-America’s Sam Bellomio described the rules as a double standard. Councilmembers are allowed to interrupt the course of a meeting, laugh or be disruptive, but not the public, he said.
He quoted the Revised Code of Washington, which says, “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”
“Is this the people’s chambers or the ruler’s chambers?” Bellomio asked in an email to Real Change. “The rules should be applied equally, but they are not. It is [the council’s] meeting and their meeting alone. They determine who is on the agenda, what can be said about the agenda, and they can interrupt at will.”
The Seattle City Council changed its rules more than a year ago in response to StandUP-America. As of 2014, the Seattle City Council began limiting all speakers to two minutes and set up a process to bar people from meetings for disruptive behaviors.
Some city councilmembers were bothered by StandUP-America’s strong language. They appeared at one meeting holding up a sign with an acronym that they said stood for “freedom u can’t kill” (go ahead, spell it out). During one meeting, Bellomio called Councilmember Tim Burgess a “dick.”
Sally Clark, council president at the time, tried to bar Bellomio, but the existing rules did not allow such action.
“I hate that we’re going down that road,” Clark said in 2013. “There is unfortunately a pattern of disrupting the meeting, pushing the boundaries of the way the rules were constructed, that caused me concern about whether we were able to conduct a meeting.”