Last Wednesday, city hall staffers were placing bets.
Not on who would come out ahead on election day—but on whether two activists who hijacked the council meeting to talk about housing issues would be back the next week to do it again.
During the Wednesday, May 14, meeting, as always, Mayor Tom Potter asked if anyone in the audience wanted "to pull any items from the consent agenda," the items the council passes without any discussion.
Immediately, Andrew Seaton, a guy in a red polo shirt sitting in the front row, said he did want to pull something. He started reading off the numbers of all of the consent agenda items: "608, 609, 610...."
Potter cut him off, and asked him to leave. A security guard approached Seaton, and reiterated Potter's request. Seaton refused, and murmurs went through crowd as the security guard called the police. Several people spoke up, asking what Seaton had done wrong. Potter explained he was disrupting the council meeting. (Commissioner Randy Leonard, too, glared at Seaton.) "This place gives me the creeps," one guy in the audience said, as he got up and walked out.
Seaton's request sounded like a simple one to me. As he pointed out, some of the consent agenda items looked meaty—and relevant to the ongoing homeless protest outside of city hall—like several contracts related to rental assistance and affordable housing. And I'm not sure Potter is allowed to ignore the request, but he did anyway.
Potter hasn't exactly had a lot of patience lately, which is not surprising, given the protest outside, and the ongoing budget sparring inside city hall.
The day before the council meeting, the mayor met with activists from the homeless protest that had been outside of city hall for over two weeks. In a press conference after the meeting, a reporter asked Potter why he'd let the protest go on for so long—did he really think it wouldn't be problematic to have more than 100 people sleeping on city hall's doorstep? "That's a dumb question," Potter snapped. When another reporter asked where the protesters could go, Potter curtly replied that the question had already been asked.
Back at the council meeting—where several of the protesters testified at the outset— Seaton refused to leave. For the rest of the meeting, he and another protester, Mike Dee, took advantage of council rules that allow public testimony before each vote. For every agenda item—from a purchasing contract for dump trucks, to an application for state transportation funds—the two used their allotted time to draw connections between housing and the issue at hand. It was tedious—which made it genius political theater.
Imagine what would happen if the two organized a few more people next week, and engaged the council on every agenda item. It'd be a loooong meeting. But it sure would get the attention of council members who have dodged the protest issue, leaving Potter to deal with it.