On Wednesday, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda issued a “first warning” to regular council critic David Haines for “repeatedly impugning” members of the council and central staff during the public comment period in her Finance and Housing committee.
Haines, a resident of the Pioneer Square neighborhood, frequently attends public comment periods. He calls in most often to comment on the homelessness crisis, often accusing the council of caring more about re-election than getting people inside. He shows little sympathy for people selling drugs or stealing, regularly referring to these actors as perpetrators of an “uncivil war” downtown.
In his Wednesday comment, he made one of his usual arguments: The City does more for unhoused people of color than for unhoused white people. This argument ignores the realities of who lives unhoused in King County. According to the most recent Point-in-Time Count, yes, most homeless people are white. However, whereas 66% of the county is white, only 48% of homeless people in King County are white. On the other hand, the county’s population is only 7% Black, but 25% of homeless people are Black. Only 1% of King County is Indigenous, but 15% of homeless people are Indigenous. If the council is favoring people of color in its response to the homelessness crisis, it’s doing a pretty shitty job.
Bad arguments aside, in response to his accusation that the city council and its staff was racist and “endangering our community public safety and further causing a homeless crisis,” this time Mosqueda employed a new city council rule to prevent that kind of discourse.
In this case, she addressed Haines directly, which is not typical during the public comment period, and said, “This is going to be your first warning. We are not going to tolerate folk having their character impugned, and you repeatedly impugned some of the council members and the staff. Happy to take your public comment in the future. But please do not levy such accusations against council members or central staff.”
A matter of months ago, Haines probably could have called the council a bunch of racists without any issue, but the council recently tightened up the rules for public commenters. Now the council can more easily reprimand Haines, the only public commenter who spoke against the new rules when the council first discussed them, and other members of the public they find “disruptive.”
In section III.D.1 of the Council Rules and Procedures, the council defines “disruptions” as exceeding the set time limit, speaking out of turn, commenting on something unrelated to the meeting, standing in the aisle or front row without recognition from the presiding officer, or holding a sign that obstructs traffic or the view in Council Chambers.
At the end of last year, during the biannual review of the rules, former Councilmember Lorena González sponsored a resolution that added “behavior that intentionally disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise impedes attendance or participation at a Council or Committee meeting.” In adding this new rule, the council gained much more discretion in identifying behavior that qualifies a disruption, and also more power to bar someone from public comment for doing so.
If someone’s actions meet the requirements for a "disruption," the rules say the presiding officer can issue a warning, and then any council member can end the person’s comment period early, or, for in-person meetings, direct security staff to bring the person back to their seat or out of the meeting room altogether.
If someone just keeps returning to chambers and breaking the rules, any council member can shut that person up during future public comment or bar them from attending meetings entirely. The rule-breaker can come back after 28 days, but if they keep being a pain within 60 days of their return, the council can tell them to screw off for up to 90 days. If they come back to break more rules after that second ban, then the council can ban them for another 180 days. The rules also allow the council to adjust the length of exclusion depending on the seriousness of a disruption.
González’s most recent change to the rules also added a section about abusive and harassing behavior. The latest addition to the rules defines a large swath of behaviors as abusive and harassing, from something as minor as obscene language and gestures to far more serious infractions like threats, assaults, and sexual harassment.
If you pull any of that shit, the council can immediately remove you from a meeting and exclude you for up to a year. Not only that, but you may also be subject to criminal sanctions as well.
By claiming that Haines “impugned” members of the council and central staff, Mosqueda is essentially accusing him of violating the new rule preventing commenters from using abusive and harassing behavior, a rule he once said “should be rejected on principle.”
“It is evident that the council is conspiring to silence and censor public comments and manipulate the true democracy that's being denied,” Haines said in a long-winded, anti-council rant on Dec. 1, 2021.
So far, the new rules do not appear to affect many commenters besides Haines. Frequent public commenter Alex Tsimerman was banned from City Hall for a year in 2017. A spokesperson for the council recalled the last time the council actually started banning people was in 2013, when Sam Bellomio called then Councilmember Tim Burgess a “dick.”
For now, the council will still allow Haines to speak at public comment, but he’s got his first warning, so now anyone can end his comment or kick him out of a meeting. He’ll need to come back yet another time to get the 28-day ban. Basically, if you’re looking to get banned from public comment for some weird libertarian, cancel-culture badge of honor, you’ll have to do more than call the council racist toward white people more than once.