It wouldn’t be a Yakima City Council meeting without at least a few people butting heads over something.
Sometimes I can see it coming days in advance when I look over the preliminary agenda posted every Friday, like with marijuana and the downtown plaza proposal. But on many occasions, such as Tuesday when council audience regular Candie Turner took the podium, unexpected emotions boil over and raise the question of how the city deals with debates that can become personal.
Turner, a longtime Yakima resident who attends and speaks at almost every council meeting, was critical of Councilman Dave Ettl and Mayor Micah Cawley for how they handled a debate in December regarding breed-specific dog legislation, during which audience members acted out — including a round of applause following a speech by Turner — and Ettl fanned the flames by airing his dissatisfaction with them.
Turner criticized Ettl at the council’s Jan. 7 meeting for his admonishment of the audience, to which Ettl responded by reading the city’s rules for decorum, which specifically bans applause and other outbursts, which Turner said she had no control over. The issue appeared to have been dropped since then, but clearly Ettl’s treatment had continued to nag at her before coming up again Tuesday night.
“Mr. Ettl, you don’t even know me; however, you make a point to verbally stab at me as often as possible,” Turner said. “Your verbal barbs have left me figuratively bleeding and now I’m just mad. It stops here and it stops now.”
Ettl was caught off guard by Turner’s comments and said he wanted the council’s minutes checked. “I do not recall that happening,” Ettl said.
As the councilman charged with keeping meetings on track, Cawley said he accepts the blame for outbursts, but he too was surprised by Turner’s comments.
“I thought we had put this behind us as a council,” Cawley said.
Council members are usually deferential when it comes to differences of opinion between them and audience members or even fellow council members. Phrases such as “Thanks for your comments,” “We’ll have our staff get back to you,” or some phrase equating disagreements to “the beauty of democracy,” are commonly thrown out.
But Ettl, as witnessed in his colorful exchanges with audience members and regular disputes with Councilwoman Kathy Coffey, doesn’t let things go easily.
“I didn’t run to sit here and be a punching bag for citizens,” Ettl said. “If they want to make an accusation or make a comment, I’m more than happy to take that on on equal terms. But equal terms means I’m able to respond.”
So I ask you, dear blog reader, what’s the proper code of conduct that would reflect best on the behavior of council members and attendees?