Over the past several months, protesters have interrupted City Council discussions. Like on Sept. 19:
Councilmember Bruce Harrell: "You're giving me no choice but to adjourn the meeting and I don't want to do that, I want to hear from you."
So when it came time for Mayor Ed Murray's budget address, things had changed. When people showed up for that meeting (some of them three hours early), they were told the meeting room was already full. They'd have to watch from a screen in another room.
Now it appears officials allowed in only invited guests and city employees inside the council chambers.
The National Lawyers Guild has filed a public records request asking the city why. Attorney Neil Fox wants to know, did the city violate its own policies by closing the doors and filling up all the seats? He wonders if Murray was worried about protesters.
Fox: "By choosing people who are more likely to support what the mayor is going to say then the perception is that his remarks are gaining favor from the people in attendance. You're cutting down on democracy, cutting down on transparency. That's called content-based discrimination; that clearly violates the first amendment."
He says the public was excluded from the public meeting.
Former City Councilmember Nick Licata (in the position for 18 years) says he doesn't remember a budget speech where the doors were closed on the public.
Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien wanted the chamber doors to stay open but were overruled by fellow councilors.
Licata says this meeting brought up an ethical issue, both for the mayor and any possible protesters.
Licata: "The environment you're trying to create is one that every citizen is treated equally, and they all should have an opportunity to be present physically to hear the mayor speak, and I would also argue they have a responsibility to let the mayor speak."
Murray's office contends there were many members of the public in the audience, invited by the mayor, and that anyone could give public comment once the speech was over.