MONTESANO — The city of Montesano has installed a new $1,600 sound system in its upstairs meeting room — but not before Mayor Ken Estes threatened to have police officers arrest anyone who disturbs future City Council meetings and made it clear that the option of moving council meetings to a small conference room with only the press and staff present are completely acceptable options under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
And even with the new sound system, Estes says the city will continue to meet in its small council chambers — no matter what.
Estes had been clear and vocal for weeks on the options on the table if residents continued to come to council meetings and stomp their feet, applaud and parade in with large signs.
“Our meetings are not for the public to have demonstrations,” Estes told The Vidette. “This is not a town hall meeting. This is a meeting to conduct the city’s business.”
“The business of the city is very important — who gets paid, what ordinances are passed, policy, contract approvals, directions given to the administration, union agreements, appeals and hearings,” Estes added in a letter he made public last week on the situation.
The letter, which is printed in full on Page A-6 in The Vidette, also notes that the city will enforce “the crime of public disturbance.”
“Demonstrators may use the sidewalk outside the building,” Estes said. “Persons interfering or causing a disturbance will be removed from the building. Failing to do so will result in the room being cleared.”
Estes also cited the Open Public Meetings Act, “In the event that any meeting is interrupted by a group or groups of persons so as to render the orderly conduct of such meeting unfeasible and order cannot be restored by the removal of individuals who are interrupting the meeting, the members of the governing body conducting the meeting may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session or may adjourn the meeting and reconvene at another location selected by the majority vote of the members. Representatives of the press or other news media, except those participating in the disturbance, shall be allowed to attend any session held pursuant to this section.”
Because there were so many people — most of them angry — at the April, May and June council meetings, the council was forced to abandon its chambers and move to the upstairs meeting room.
However, no steps were ever taken to add microphones upstairs. That made the crowd angrier.
“How hard would it have been to call up Greater Grays Harbor Inc. to ask them to borrow their microphones or sound system? Or how about asking to borrow the system at the high school?” questioned former county commissioner Dan Wood, who now lives in Montesano.
Estes said the city couldn’t afford to install an elaborate microphone system that piped directly to hearing aids. Such a system was designed and installed years ago into the existing council chambers to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, he ordered the city to connect the sound system from the City Council chambers to elsewhere at City Hall.
He never researched the microphone option to use upstairs, he said.
Montesano Community Development Director Mike Wincewicz said the cost to connect speakers in the large upstairs meeting room, as well as speakers in the hallway outside of the council chambers was about $1,600.
While the previous three months of meetings each drew more than 100 people, the council meeting on June 23 just drew about 60. Police Chief Brett Vance stood at the door and answered questions from residents about the sound system. Some people walked away, noting the council chambers were filling up. There was police tape on hand ready to be used to close off the chambers if it grew too full.
Nobody used the new “overflow” room upstairs. Anyone who didn’t feel comfortable in the cramped quarters just left.
And during public comment periods, nobody stomped their feet or made a fuss. There was just a gentle applause for the residents who pointed out problems at the cemetery, which were eventually addressed by city administration when they canned their existing contractors earlier last month.
Nobody had signs. However, more than half of the audience wore stickers on their chest that read “Clearly WRONG!” to address the situation Estes had put them in.