It’s what you say, not how you say it.
That’s the gist of a resolution proposed Tuesday at the Edmonds City Council meeting by city attorney Scott Snyder at the behest of Mayor Gary Haakenson.
Listed on the consent agenda, which generally contains routine items or those ready for official passage after being discussed by the Council at a previous meeting, Council President Richard Marin removed the item which was then rescheduled for the Dec. 6 meeting and discussion by the Council. Public input would be accepted at that meeting.
The resolution was requested by Haakenson after a contentious council meeting Oct. 25, during which he repeatedly warned Ray Martin, a regular and outspoken critic of the mayor and the Council majority, against campaigning for a particular candidate during the public-comment period of the meeting.
Haakenson said he thought Martin’s response volatile enough to prompt a request from the mayor for Police Chief David Stern to be ready to escort Martin away from the microphone if necessary. It was not.
Since then, Martin, who contends his First Amendment rights were violated by the mayor with nine interruptions during his allotted time before the microphone, said there have been two complaints made to the American Civil Liberties Union about his treatment by the mayor.
Haakenson said prior to Oct. 25 that a majority of Council members asked him to nip in the bud campaigning during Council meetings. He said those Council members and he believe that kind of electioneering to be in violation of state law, he added.
Haakenson asked Snyder to amend the meeting procedure wording on the back of the council’s weekly agendas that explains appropriate participation in meetings recorded and broadcast at public expense.
Snyder said the resolution is simply a restating of state law (RCW 42.17.130), which addresses use of public facilities for campaign purposes. That law in general prohibits use of public facilities for campaign purposes. Exceptions include when “neutral information” is given, such as at a candidate forum in which those holding opposing views are invited, and when it’s activity that’s part of public officials’ jobs, such as sharing budget information, Snyder said.
Criticizing public officials at council meetings is perfectly OK, the city attorney said. “Tell me ‘I’m full of it,’” he said. “Just don’t say ‘vote for Joe Blow.’”
Promotion of campaign issues, as well as candidates, also falls under the state law, according to Snyder.
At the Oct. 25 Council meeting, a parent volunteer introduced by Edmonds School District Superintendent Nick Brossoit spoke about levy and bond measures slated to go to voters in 2006 and asked citizens to vote “yes.” Snyder said the message likely violated state law.
Rowena Miller, in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting, said the pro-school message “is done every year by the district.” Snyder commented, “then it should stop.” Information is allowable, Snyder reiterated, promotion is not.