Well THAT was interesting. Tuesday night’s Yakima City Council meeting was one of the craziest I have ever seen, and I’ve watched and participated in a lot of them in a 30-year media career.  It was chaotic, divisive and totally unnecessary.  It was insulting to the public and to the council as well. The question is why?

The back story - a couple of people asked the council to look into the prospect of Yakima becoming a sanctuary city.  I don’t know who they were or what they hoped to accomplish but the council agreed to look into it and asked staff to bring back some research.  At the January 10th meeting the idea was discussed and it was clear from the start that there were strong feelings on both sides as a number of people spoke their concerns and others their support.  Council asked staff to bring back a potential resolution and tried to reassure those in attendance the resolution was just a formality, an attempt to put into writing that which was already in practice..

The Yakima Herald ran a couple of stories that basically presented the views of councilwomen Avina and Dulce Gutierrez reaffirming  the measure was just ceremonial and wouldn’t change a thing since the city police department already operated as a de facto sanctuary city.  Not all were convinced.  It’s one thing to quietly go about your business on a controversial issue staying out of the public eye and it’s quite another to proclaim it and put it in the face of a majority conservative community.

The problem for me was with the language of what was to be called a “welcoming city” resolution.  The basic anti-discriminatory language was legal and fine but the  words “regardless of immigration status” seemed to me to undermine the Rule of Law and the Constitution. Many in attendance agreed.   Here is what the resolution said:

"WHEREAS, the City of Yakima is committed to protecting and serving everyone who resides in, works in or visits the City of Yakima without discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, income or economic status, political affiliation, military status, sexual orientation, or physical, mental or sensory ability"

There was some ambiguity for me in some of the other wording.  Define “hate”, what does “will not tolerate” look like in practice, who decides what fear and intimidation look like?  Here’s the phrase:

"WHEREAS, the City of Yakima believes in the dignity, equality and constitutional and civil rights of all people, and will not tolerate hate, intolerance, discrimination, harassment or any behavior that creates fear, isolation or intimidation"

In the end I felt some on the council were downplaying something of significance but what and why?  If the city already does all that the resolution says (does it really?) and it wouldn’t change a thing –as we were told—why do it all?   Several astute community members asked that question --without getting an answer I might add.  Why stir up residents, why make people take sides and generate bad feelings among the community and ultimately on the council itself if there is no community benefit?  Why?  My answer would be to speculate on council personal and political agendas separate from the needs and wants of the citizens.

Are there family and friend considerations for some?  Political resume building for others?  How else could you say you wanted to bring people together and be so upset when it didn't work out?  This wasn’t a case of “hey, we thought we would try to help but it didn’t work out as we thought--so, oh well back to the drawing board” and then smile.  No, the reactions were not those of somebody just rebuffed for trying to help but the help wasn’t needed.  The reactions were fury and venom and insult.  Total disrespect to the public and to fellow council members for disagreeing.   It was like watching a train wreck as car after car was forced off the track into a twisted pile.   But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Despite the ice storm the crowd was overflow with about 150 in attendance.  The weather made three members late and the mayor was concerned about shortening the meeting to get everyone home early and safely.  Council voted to change the three-minute time limit for public participation to merely stating your name and saying if you were in favor of the ordinance or not. UNACCEPTABLE!  The intent was well meaning, but scores of people weren’t concerned for the ice, they braved the weather for their chance to be heard.  I scribbled a note saying it was unfair to all who turned out to not get a chance to speak and I gave it to Councilwoman Adkison as she walked in.  She gave the note to the mayor and ultimately and surprisingly the council agreed to give the public one minute each to make their case.  Not the best solution but an improvement and an opportunity.

By my count approx 52 people spoke with 23 for and 29 against the resolution.  Several of the council member said they had been overwhelmed by public input through email, calls and social media.  Councilwoman Adkison said not a single person of all those who contacted her were in favor.  Mayor Coffey said it was the greatest response she had ever received on an issue and almost all were against the resolution.

Most of the “no” crowd were concerned for the rule of law, overburdening our limited resources to help people, concern for attracting more crime and  several saying it wasn’t a racial matter but a legal one.

The council deliberated, each making their case and in the end the respect for the requirements of the Oath of Office to uphold the constitution in addition to massive constituent input seemed to be the deciding factors in the four no votes from Cousens, Lover, Coffey and Adkison.   Needless to say the Dulce and Avina were not pleased and each took to lecturing, scolding, insulting and demeaning the public and their four fellow council members. A lot of anger and arrogance on full display.  I return to the imagery of the train wreck.

I really haven’t seen anything like that before.  It was a cruel, intentional burning of the bridges as Avina insultingly called out each of the four who voted no.  Dulce called up images of Dr. King and the importance of fighting against unjust laws. (I thought it was ceremonial? No?)  Council woman Mendez was emotional as she tried to keep her emotions in check.  She too called on Dr. King quotes about doing the right thing. So much angst for a ceremony.

Conclusion -There was an awful lot bile being spewed around for something that was supposed to just be ceremonial and not really affect anything. WHY?   Shakespeare said something like -Me thinks thou dost protest too much? Makes me think that ‘no big deal” pronouncement just might not have been true.  How about you?  I encourage you to go to the council website and watch the meeting and stay until the end and see if the conduct displayed is what you expect and will accept from your council. http://205.172.45.10/Cablecast/public-site/index.html#/show/7876?channel=2

The takeaway for me…the council is supposed to subordinate personal agendas and work for the community and despite the wreckage, the process worked out this time-- but at what cost?  What cost to council relationships and thus council effectiveness in the future?  What cost to community trust and support of council and their projects and initiatives? And at what cost to the community psyche and self image which is already on life support half the time? Did anybody at a keyboard fight the ACLU because the saw all this coming? Why yes they did.  I know, self-righteousness isn't pretty, my bad.

Truth is that it is not racial, l a least not for most of us who were there  It is about the Rule of Law applying equally to everyone.  If the council can come to that understanding, maybe the council can regroup and move forward on behalf of all of us.