By Mahlon Meyer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
In a move that effectively emptied a packed boardroom of around 100 protesters from the Chinatown-International District (CID), King County Chief Executive Dow Constantine halted public comment after less than half of those signed up had given testimony at a Sound Transit (ST) board meeting on Jan. 26.
Saying that the period for public comment had already gone past its scheduled time “by five minutes,” Constantine, who doubles as the chair of the ST board, directed, “with the indulgence of the board members” to move the remaining speakers to the end of the meeting.
“I apologize for running out of time, but there’s a lot of people who want to have their say, which is a good thing,” Constantine said when he suspended comments.
Compared to meetings of the King County Council, where Chair Claudia Balducci has routinely allowed public comment to continue unabated, such a move seemed surprising, at the very least to the throngs of senior citizens that had made the trek from the CID to Union Station and had packed the meeting.
At the dispersal of the comment session—after about 30 minutes of comments—news of the interruption spread through the ranks of the protesters, almost all of whom rose en masse and made their way to the exits, not willing or unable to wait for an additional approximately two hours for the resumption of the promised comment period.
Apparently frustrated and commenting about the sudden erratic change in the schedule, many muttered and engaged in conversations and near-silent protests as they flooded out the rear door.
With what seemed a strained face, Constantine waited for the hubbub to subside. Finally, he said, with muted exasperation, “If you want to take your conversations out to the side room, it would be helpful.”
When the last protester walked out, the door was shut, sealing the now emptied boardroom in a hush, and Constantine proceeded with the meeting.
It was an hour and a half later when the board resumed taking public comments.
By that time, the room was virtually empty.
Originally, 47 people had signed up to give public comments. When Constantine stopped the proceedings, there were still 24 to go, he said.
In the waning minutes of the almost two-and-a-half-hour board meeting, only a handful of those were still around to comment. At least 10 were called by name but did not respond.
After the final comment, Constantine apologized again.
By that time, he was speaking to a nearly empty room.
Mahlon can be reached at email@example.com.