In what apparently could become the rule in Sierra Madre during the upcoming year long reign of Mayor Nancy Walsh, heavy handedness and the refusal to listen to opinions that she herself does not share in was clearly on display at Tuesday's City Council meeting. Intolerance, and not inclusiveness, was the order of the evening. With outright censorship just a few short steps away.
As those who witnessed Tuesday evening's inadequately run City Council meeting can attest, Nancy Walsh clearly cut off Fay Angus during public comment. The claim the Mayor made at that time was Fay had gone over her allotted three minutes of time and therefore had lost her right to speak any longer than she already had. What was not understood at that moment was Walsh's timing was wrong.
Concerned residents have now gone back to the videotape, reviewed the Mayor's unfortunate behavior and, using a stopwatch, timed Fay's talk. Nancy Walsh began cutting Ms. Angus off at 2 minutes and 45 seconds into her message, a full 15 seconds before the three minute time limit had been reached. Perhaps the Mayor had left her watch at home? Or it could have been because the Josh Moran installed three minute clock was not working again?
Whatever the case may be, Mayor Walsh apparently was unaware of how much time had actually elapsed, or that by her actions she was denying Fay Angus the lawful and guaranteed right to speak freely during public comment at Sierra Madre City Council meetings. After all, we are not living in North Korea. Here residents are allowed to speak their minds, and honored for taking the time to do so.
Of course, it didn't really have all that much to do with the mechanical failure of City Hall's timing devices. And had she been allowed to do so, Fay would have completed her statement in under the three minutes allotted for public comment. It was just that Mayor Walsh did not like what Sierra Madre's foremost published author, and an internationally celebrated public speaker as well, was saying last Tuesday evening. And Nancy apparently decided instead to arbitrarily deprive someone whose words she didn't want to hear the proper right to finish their statement.
In case you weren't around to catch it, here is what Mayor Walsh was attempting to prevent Fay Angus from saying:
I would like to compliment and express my appreciation to Council members Chris Koerber and John Cappocia for maintaining the dignity of their office and their diplomatic and civil response to the deplorable rudeness exhibited by John Harabedian at the last council meeting. Koerber and Capoccia are in every sense of the word, gentlemen.
In a discussion regarding the appointment of a Mayor Pro Tem, Harabedian was asked to clarify a point he had made. In a condescending way he prefaced his reply with words to the effect that he did not think he would have to break down his comments as though he were talking to children. Through the years we have had many children coming to city council meetings. They have conducted themselves well; some have spoken at the podium, others have taken notes of the proceedings as part of a civics class.
In all those years I have never heard city staff or council members "talking down" to children, or expressing the need to "break down" their comments for the children. I commend the children who come to council meetings, I appreciate what they have to say and thank them for their participation, we need to accord them the same respect as anyone else in attendance.
At the last election Chris Koerber received more votes than did John Harabedian. Under city protocol, the person with the most votes is the one who takes the position of Mayor Pro Tem. In a contrived misinterpretation of this protocol Harabedian told Mr. Koerber that his vote was from a special election to fill the seat vacated by Joe Mosca. He went as far as to say, "you are Joe Mosca." Mr. Koerber immediately replied, "I am NOT Joe Mosca."
We do not have levels of priority in our elections. In other words a four year term does not take precedence over a two year term, or a one year term for that matter. We recognize council members and their vote equally, regardless of the term they occupy. There are many in the community who believe that Mr. Harabedian has usurped the position of Mayor Pro Tem.
Mr. Harabedian stated that Mr. Koerber was involved in a "power grab." A terrible accusation and one that boomerangs back at Mr. Harabedian. Very rudely he also referred to the comments of Mr. Koerber as "petty." Rude, very rude! Comments from council members (as well as those from city staff) are never petty. They are significant and should be respected as such.
Our City Council chamber is a place for discussion of city business; for airing of diverse perspectives; for public comment; for recognition of a job well done and our heros such as John Shear, announcements of special events, etc. Humor is always welcome as well, we've had many a good laugh. But our City Council is not the place for rudeness. Please remember that, Mr. Harabedian.
To which Fay Angus then added, after repeated and ethically inappropriate attempts by Nancy to silence her, "and Mayor Walsh would do well to remember that as well!"
As an aside, the 3 minute rule, as it were, needs to be handled with a bit more sophistication than either Mayor Walsh or former Mayor Moran have shown. It isn't supposed to be used as a club to crudely beat down speakers who have differing opinions. As an example, at Presidential debates candidates are permitted to finish their thoughts even after they have exceeded their time limit. The recognition being that the speaker's point of view is more important than anything being said by a clock. It is a part of showing people respect, and behaving civilly.
I attended this meeting and got to witness much of what was going on during Fay's talk. John Harabedian sat there with what was really quite an incredible scowl on his face. He is most definitely a scowler, and apparently believes that when doing so he is displaying a kind of stern and measured displeasure with the person he is so intently focused upon. Which, of course, isn't at all true. He is just scowling.
Nancy Walsh, on the other hand, did not make eye contact with Fay, even when attempting to silence her. Rather her eyes rolled back into their sockets in a Valley Girl sort of way, and then when she felt the urge to speak focused upon something at the back of the room.
Later in the evening during a break Mayor Pro Tem* Harabedian could be seen ordering Bruce Inman around as the two attempted to repair the broken three minute public comment clock. Bruce clearly assumed a subservient role. He scurried about as Harabedian pointed his finger at the various things offending him. It was only after the meeting had finally wrapped up that the timer finally began working again.
What I took away from that small comedy is the Mayor Pro Tem* plans to be a bit of a stickler on the three minute rule going forward. I guess he fears that the kind of withering criticism he took last Tuesday evening from Fay might become a fairly regular thing, and he wants to make certain that the public comment timer is going to be around to help him.
It is clearly going to be quite a year.