LYNNWOOD — It was supposed to be a public hearing about the city’s first property tax increase in two years Monday night at the Lynnwood City Council.
Instead, three commenters disrupted the meeting with a series of anti-Semitic and racist comments over Zoom.
The first speaker called for a city declaration condemning Israel’s actions against Palestine before descending into a vulgar anti-Semitic rant. He nearly finished his allotted three minutes for public comment, before Mayor Christine Frizzell told him to “clean up” his language.
Another speaker, who gave an Everett zip code, rambled about anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
The mayor cut him off: “Do you have any comments that are relevant to the city of Lynnwood?”
The third commenter shouted slurs, when asked to keep his remarks relevant to Lynnwood.
Other public meetings around the region, and the country, have been disrupted by so-called “Zoom bombers.” Callers disrupted an Everett City Council meeting in a similar manner in September, when they joined the meeting via Zoom to make racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
On Tuesday, city staff were working with Lynnwood City Attorney Lisa Marshall to adjust the public comment guidelines. At the hearing, she noted the open comment session was a “limited public forum,” and therefore not a free-for-all under the First Amendment.
“There is no room for hate speech in Lynnwood and we’re taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” city spokesperson Nathan MacDonald said.
Council President Shannon Sessions agreed the comments were out of line.
“We need to protect free speech,” she said. “Those (comments) are hate speech and will not be tolerated.”
More tension — over tax increase
After the public comment, the council moved on to regular business, approving a 5% property tax levy increase by a 5-2 vote. This was much lower than the 22% the mayor proposed to stay in line with future budgets.
The 5% increase will raise about $250,000, compared to $1 million under the mayor’s original plan. City Council members Josh Binda and Sessions voted against the increase.
The increase will cost the average homeowner an additional $11 in property taxes per year, said Michelle Meyer, the city finance director. A 22% hike would have raised taxes by $58 annually.
“If anyone is $58 away from the poverty line … I think that’s a bigger problem as a city, what we’re doing for our community, than it is about our property tax,” Binda said. “That’s what I believe. Fifty-eight dollars?”
Council member Jim Smith initially motioned for no increase, but changed his mind to allow a 5% increase after hearing from fellow council members.
Smith, who lost his re-election bid this year, was worried a 22% increase would be too much of a burden on residents.
“Kindly I think there’s a bit of hypocrisy with some things that have been said, in that we’re always hearing about how we need to take care of the less fortunate … yet we’re going to tax the heck out of them,” Smith said during the meeting.
Smith noted he would not be on the council next year, so he didn’t have to “hold back.”
Sessions, who did not run for re-election, accused Smith of “grandstanding.”
Some council members expressed distaste for tax increases, but said it was necessary to move the city forward.
“Five percent isn’t enough,” Sessions said in an interview. “While I’m not in favor of tax increases, the property tax levy is important for the long-term health of our city.”
City Council member Shirley Sutton motioned to bring an outside auditor to look into the city’s funds, but the council voted to table that idea.