Public service has rewards and also aches and pains. Elected officials should understand that dealing with knuckleheads comes with the job.
Members of the Olympia City Council are not exceptions to this rule of thumb.
That is why a proposed Olympia ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor crime to disrupt a public meeting seems so over the top.
The council's decision to table the proposal on Tuesday night was a good step. Withdrawing the proposal altogether would be better.
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Current laws should be enough to deal with those who don’t want to let the public engage in a thoughtful dialogue about local issues.
There is no need to “lock them up,” as a certain national candidate might have said in 2016.
City Council member Jessica Bateman said the Olympia ordinance, which gave her qualms, came out of a council retreat. No doubt the council feels occasional frustration in a town where there is always a critic willing to throw verbal stones. Some individuals have gotten unruly with their protests, interfering with a few public meetings convened by the city.
Just over a year ago, critics of gentrification disrupted a meeting called by the city’s downtown strategy group; a shoving match broke out between two attendees, but no one was injured. In December anti-fracking protesters occupied the City Council chambers; the council chose to relocate its meeting.
The Port of Olympia has seen its share of vocal critics, too. A protest of the port’s willingness to unload shipments of sands used by the oil fracking industry led some activists to form a tent encampment that blocked the rail line serving the port. A few protesters went further, accosting port employees who were doing their jobs.
Shortly after the port protest, a state Senate Republican proposed a law making it a felony crime to interfere with commerce by blocking railroad tracks. That idea, which we derided at the time, went to an early legislative death.
Elected officials have other options. It’s not hard to ask someone to leave a public venue when he or she is refusing to let others speak. If a knucklehead refuses, it’s always possible to ask a police officer to escort or evict the rowdy subject from the room.
New laws threatening arrests for vexatious people only chill the exercise of political speech.
Those who disrupt others need to remember that their actions also chill the speech rights of others.