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Seattle council tightens rules for public commenter behavior

Supporters and critics of Seattle's head tax pack pack a council meeting in 2018. (KIRO Radio/Matt Pitman)

Seattle City Council passed a measure Tuesday, tightening restrictions regarding conduct during council meetings, specifically for crowd members and public commenters.

Public commenter ignored by Seattle City Council speaks out

The new rules make it so commenters can be removed and excluded from future meetings for a smattering of violations, including:

  • Failing to comply with the allotted speaking time
  • Outbursts from members of the audience not participating in public comments
  • Comments unrelated to specific ordinances that a public hearing is being held for
  • Banners or signs that obstruct the movement of people through the chambers, or the view of others in attendance at meetings
  • Using obscene or threatening gestures or language
  • Sexual misconduct (including threats of sexual harassment)

Public comment periods in front of city council often feature colorful language and performances. At times, people have used their time to perform songs. Some commenters make regular, almost daily, appearances, sometimes wandering significantly off topic. Others have made a habit of venturing into language some would deem inappropriate and threatening.

Recently, the council caught flack for appearing to ignore a commenter attempting to get their attention, with Councilmember Debora Juarez speaking only to remind him of his remaining time.

Past videos of the man surfaced in the ensuing weeks, showing that he was a frequent flier who would often show up to speak off topic, once quoting from Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

The restrictions outlined under this new measure restrict such instances from occurring in the future.

Tuesday’s vote approving the new rules happened with little fanfare, with councilmembers in attendance approving the measure unanimously.

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