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Those five minutes are for Renton city business, not self-promotion | EDITOR'S NOTE
Beginning in August, a tall Russian man named Alex Zimerman began appearing at Renton City Council meetings. He carries a large red sign and speaks on behalf of a group called Stand-Up America, which he founded.
In his first appearance before the Renton City Council, Mr. Zimerman praised the council for allowing a five-minute public comment period – longer than many other surrounding boards and councils – and used his time to rail against the Metropolitan King County Council and what he described as its lack of a public comment period.
In subsequent meetings, Mr. Zimerman has brought other members of his group and each have addressed the council, telling them they should force the County Council to allow them to speak.
At first, they were polite and one gentleman, Sam Bellomio, even talked about how the five minutes gave him more time than he actually had things to say.
But since their initial appearances, Mr. Zimerman and Mr. Bellomio have been back to multiple meetings, saying the same thing every week and doing so in less polite terms each time.
In fact, at the most recent council meeting, they were downright belligerent jerks.
My notes from their comments have gone from writing down their point and maybe a quote to not even writing down their names. Frankly, during their past few appearances, I used their comments to check the Phillies score.
It’s difficult to tell exactly what they want or what they are hoping the Renton City Council will do for them as there’s rarely any substance to their remarks beyond hating the County Council.
Mr. Zimerman routinely throws around the terms “Nazi” and “Communists,” which to me indicate he is not interested in actual serious discussion.
Mr. Zimerman repeatedly states that having grown up in the USSR and under KGB rule, that he knows what that looks like and accuses both the County Council and the Renton City Council of being Nazis, Communists and, amusingly, aristocrats.
Now, I did not grow up under Nazi or Communist rule, but I am positive that the Renton City Council – and even the King County Council – are not Nazis or Communists.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand he is trying to make a rhetorical point about - well, I’m not sure. Considering he was up there speaking during a public comment period about nothing that had anything to do with anything, except accusing the people to whom he was speaking, of being Nazis. Apparently he’s not allowed to speak. Maybe.
Here’s what I do know and Mr. Zimerman should too: The KGB would never have put up with someone like him. Mr. Zimerman would have likely disappeared by now.
Also, the Nazis were terrible, terrible people intent on taking over the world and committing genocide while they did it. Thus far my experience in Renton has not revealed any interest on the part of the elected representatives on the council to do either of those things.
The problem with saying such things is that it shows you are not serious. It also belittles the actual crimes against humanity committed by both of those groups. Whenever we use “Nazi” as some sort of throw-away epithet, we are, in my mind, essentially crying wolf.
Eventually, we’ll mean it, but everyone will be so desensitized by folks like Mr. Zimerman that we’ll all be eaten.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Bellomio used his time to mostly complain that through most of his time speaking he was not shown on camera, as if that matters or is something the council controls.
To me, this is proof that this group has absolutely no interest in anything other than being seen. Mr. Bellomio is, however, running for the Seattle City Council and the group’s website contains videos from the various appearances at council meetings. Perhaps that is why it’s so important to him that his face appears on television.
During their last appearance, the two men also made sure to insult and attack some of the City Council members for apparently not doing enough to get the County Council to change its policies.
These are members of a council, remember, who represent a city in which these two men do not live and are conducting business, on which they have no interest.
But they insult them nonetheless.
Their last appearance prompted several members of the audience to stand and address the situation, often praising the council for its patience and worrying that these men would prompt the City Council to change its comment policies, policies many members of the audience appreciate and use respectfully, even when they disagree with the council.
Last week, we ran a letter from one of the regulars at council meetings. In it he suggested that only residents be allowed to speak, unless approved by the council. This, he said, would allow the council to hear non-resident concerns but also cut off and disallow those who have no business with the city of Renton and are interested only in getting a little angry face time in public access.
As a reporter, I am a big, big fan of free speech. I think we need to have the right to address our elected officials to tell them what we think of how they are conducting our business.
But I have to agree it is a little pretentious and annoying for folks who don’t live in the city to come down and disrupt a council meeting when their issues have nothing at all to do with the city of Renton.
Remember, they began their visits by praising the Renton City Council and then quickly degenerated into taking up all of their comment time to yell at and complain about a council that has nothing to do with either of these men.
My suggestion is this: Add the words “to discuss city business” to the commenting rules. This would allow for the council to cut off anyone not discussing matters that directly apply to the city but should allow for residents and non-residents alike (during the discussion regarding the library, several non-city residents who use the facility came into discuss the issue, which should still be allowed as it does affect them) to have their say.
I have covered several city councils in my career and many include the provision that you may address the council on city matters. This just makes sense to me. The council is there to conduct the business of the city; if you don’t have city business to discuss with them, you are wasting your time and theirs.
I appreciate that Mr. Zimerman and Mr. Bellomio have issues they feel are important to them. And I agree they should be allowed to discuss their grievances with their elected officials.
But they shouldn’t be allowed to waste the time of someone else’s elected officials.
Protecting the rights of citizens to bring forward issues and concerns at a council meeting is a respected American tradition and, frankly, one of the keys to good governance.
But if you are there just to hear yourself talk or to try and get on television, you are wasting all of our time.