Everett City Council Moves to Limit Citizens’ Speech at Council Meetings

Say this for the Everett City Council: They can close ranks with the best of them. Apparently still upset at City Councilor Stephen Simonelli getting called out at the January 8th city council meeting for racist and bigoted remarks he made to the news media and on social media, the council spent time at two different points in Monday’s meeting to make it clear dissent from the public won’t be tolerated at the meetings.

At the opening of the public participation portion of the meeting (no one was signed up to speak), Council President Peter Napolitano announced that members of the public wishing to speak at council meetings may not say the name of any of the councilors. The problem with that is the council has very specific rules about public participation at its meetings and nowhere does it say a councilor can’t be named.

The public participation at the Jan. 8th meeting obviously rattled the council members and prompted the action Monday night. I spoke, addressed only the president and simply recounted the words of Councilor Simonelli as reported by the media and a contained in his social media posts. A disturbance ensued—not about Simonelli’s bigotry but about my attempt to call him out on it.

A telling moment at Monday’s meeting was during discussion of a resolution requiring the advising of those who wish to speak that they may not disparage any councilor (which I didn’t do unless repeating Simonelli’s own words constitutes disparaging him).

City Council President Peter Napolitano.

Councilor Wayne Matewski, apparently still upset at something that happened years ago during public participation, declared, “This is our chamber!” Um, no, councilor. The chamber, city hall, the meeting rooms, the elevator and even the parking lot do not belong to the council. They belong to the people of Everett. Maybe it’s from this misunderstanding that all these problems stem.

I have great respect for Council President Napolitano. He took the time to answer my questions after the meeting. I just think he’s wrong. The rules state what public participation is for—it does not have to related to anything on that night’s agenda and it does have to be “good-hearted, interesting discussions” as Councilor Metewski contended during the debate. I don’t blame Napolitano for trying to keep his members happy but the rules are clear. By saying no speaker can mention a councilor by name, he is inventing a new rule because the chamber didn’t want to hear the hard truth about Simonelli.

The council should be concerned about the bigotry and racism of one of its members, not about a resident calling him out on it.