City Council Gone Wild!

Evan Manvel

In a jaw-dropping display, Vancouver (WA) City Councilor Jeanne Harris’ treatment of citizens (and a fellow councilor) is the latest YouTube sensation, with over 15,000 hits. The high/lowlights are in the first 30 seconds of the video at right.

Citizen communication periods at local government meetings can be difficult. Citizens have urgent issues on their minds, and are usually not practiced public speakers. The council or commission usually has a focused agenda, which more often than not doesn’t overlap with the burning issues of citizens.

What to do? Usually, councilors can learn valuable information about what’s going on in the minds of some constituents. At times, they simply have to grin and bear random rants as part of the job. Citizens are generally willing to end soon after they are told their time is up.

In this case, the Vancouver City Council members aren’t entirely clear on their procedural rules, in part due to inherent fuzziness about what “the business of the city” includes and why exactly people aren’t supposed to be able to name specific councilors (besides decorum).

As a side note, it’s stomach-turning to see Mayor Tim Leavitt – who by all accounts won his campaign based on a pledge of fighting tolls on the CRC – claim tolling is solely a state legislative issue and no one should be talking about it at the city: “We don’t have a role in the tolling issue.” He's bashed for that here.

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    Uh... they need a copy of Roberts Rule? Looks there are at least two chairs.

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    Dear God - I certainly hope that there are candidates lining up to boot Ms. Harris and the Vancouver Mayor out of office. One more thing, Ms. Harris - city council meetings are not private board meetings, they are the city's meetings and if you don't want to hear from your constituents then resign at once. You are having more than a little problem with understanding this democracy thing and have no business being in office.

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    Strike one for the Kennedy School of Govt:

    "Councilmember Harris received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Communications from Concordia University in Portland and was selected as a Fannie Mae Fellow and attended the Kennedy School of Government State and Local Officials at Harvard University in Cambridge in 2002."

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      I've participated in lots of public hearings, conducted quite a few, and would never have tolerated this kind of behavior. Surely, this council must have an attorney, they must have some rules of conduct. And if Ms. Harris has been promoted as someone qualified to be elected to public office, I hope her public votes her out at the next election. She's Scary!

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    We do not vote for kings and queens, rather for public representation of citizens...VOTE THEM OUT!!!!

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    Well good luck with that City Manager search::

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    Meh. These are city councillors. Why do we assume they are experts on Roberts.

    And "stomach turning" is a bit of hyperbole. Sounds like a smart political move to me. Ran on an issue oops, I can't change that. (Trans: tolls are probably a good idea and now I get to duck the issue.)

    Politicians are politicians.

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    I don't think the confusion was really about Roberts rules - it was about what's allowed and not by testimony, which I noted can be confusing when you have something fuzzy like "city business" defining your scope. It's why most meetings just let citizens talk about whatever (and name names) in open comment period.

    About "stomach-turning" - it's a sad day when we've come to expect our elected officials to run on a single issue and flip almost instantly and then tell citizens not to talk about it.

    In short, run as the mayor who would oppose tolls, deny in debates for months your opponent's claims you need tolls to build the project, switch your position within months after being elected, and then tell citizens that the mayor and council have nothing to do with tolls so therefore you shouldn't testify about it.

    If the last part hadn't happened my stomach wouldn't have turned as much. General election promises on strange things is par for the course (see: education being top-lined by everyone, despite most offices have little power over it), but this was an act of shooting the horse he rode in on and telling people not to talk about the dead horse.

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    This is horrible. Harris is disgraceful and the mayor is spineless. Terrible.

    The same type of thing, minus the rudeness, goes on at Portland School Board meetings. People are allowed to speak, but not allowed to be critical of individual board members. But the big problem is that there is no interaction with the public. Say your piece and sit down. No comments or questions from the board the help them understand what you are saying or further refine ideas so they are more understandable. Pretty poor government all around.

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    That is what public comments periods are intended to be - public comment without interaction. Unfortunately nobody tells the public that.

    to Ms. Harris, a bit of historical perspective might help try to understand this totally unacceptable behavior. Watch the tape again as she grandstands leaving the meeting. If i were a citizen of Vancouver I'd already have a recall petition circulating.

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    Yes, but the public comment sections of these meetings would be vastly improved with some light interaction and people would feel better about the whole thing. And the comments would be more valuable. That's a lot of good from only a little time.


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