Sometimes there are ugly truths people don’t want to hear. But if you are an elected official, you don’t have the right to silence dissent just because you don’t want to hear it. Such was the case at a recent meeting of the Everett city council when an attempt to silence criticism failed and an attempt to intimidate only strengthened resolve.
I’ve written about the blatant bigotry of City Councilor Stephen Simonelli. He’s made disgusting and nakedly racist statements about immigrants while showing an astounding ignorance of policy and fact. I decided I was going to call him out by speaking during the public participation time at the Dec. 8th city council meeting. (6:18 in)
I was two sentences into my remarks when I started to quote Councilor Simonelli as recounted in multiple media reports. All hell broke loose. Several city councilors raised angry voices, saying I was breaking the rules by referring to Simonelli by name. Among those objecting the loudest were Simonelli himself and fellow councilors John McKinnon and John Hanlon.
I’m not sure if this was a case of councilors not knowing their own rules, or worse, knowing the rules and just trying to bully their way around them. The rules are clear. There is not a prohibition on using a councilor’s name in public participation, only on “disparaging” a council member. (It’s covered under Rule 10 of the Rules of the City Council.) I was only quoting Councilor Simonelli. His comments were—and are—a matter of public record, available in the public square. So by definition, I could not be disparaging him.
After the city clerk read the rules, the councilors in question continued to try to shut me down. Eventually, the council president, Peter Napolitano, did the fair thing and made a ruling that I wasn’t breaking the rules. I continued, had my say, and concluded my remarks.
Things got worse after the meeting. As I moved toward the elevator, several councilors started in on me again, saying I broke the rules, again, by naming Councilor Simonelli. McKinnon stood out as clearly trying to intimidate me. That’s not a winning strategy, councilor.
In the end, a couple of things became evident: 1) Some Everett city councilors are ok with Simonelli’s bigotry. 2) They make up the rules as they go along, assuming no one will call them on it. 3) They are very sore losers.
For the record, the council admirably had voted for a resolution supporting immigrants in the city covered by DACA and TPS, with only Simonelli dissenting. At the council meeting at which I spoke, several councilors remained silent, convinced of my right to speak but not winning to speak to defend that right.
Everett is a city with a changing demographic in a time of unprecedented growth. The old ways of intimidation and silencing of dissent are over.