This complaint from Helen Accra is on its way to the American Civil Liberties Union this afternoon regarding the recent actions of the council majority:
Dear Sir or Madam:
On behalf of the citizens of Ruston, I am asking your assistance in regard to a breech of civil liberties on the part of the Ruston Town Council.
At a January 2008 Town Council Meeting, Bradley Huson proposed a change in council meeting procedures (attached). His proposal was seconded and agreed upon by two other council members with no public discussion allowed. In effect, Mr. Bradley’s proposal disallows public comment on Town of Ruston issues until those issues have already been voted upon by moving public comment to the end of the meeting.
In addition, the council agendas are published the Friday before the Monday meeting. Council members routinely request agenda items be listed, but do not provide any information other than the 3-word agenda listing. At the meeting, the item will sometimes have limited council discussion and vote taken without any public comment. It appears the decision by the council majority is predetermined, even to the point of a scripted motion and second.
In addition, these new rules limit public comment to two minutes with each participant being allowed only one opportunity to speak. Mr. Huson stated further that if a council meeting ran too long, he would delete public comment from the agenda entirely and that he would remove all public comment if the citizens make too much noise at council meetings. All public comment is banned from any study session, which is currently scheduled for twice a month.
The council further violated our right to free speech when they banned the public from commenting on applicants for vacant council positions. On December 3, 2007 the council appointed Dan Albertson to a vacancy just 10 minutes after the resignation of the former council member was announced. At the March 3, 2008 meeting, the council appointed Jane Hunt another vacancy without allowing any public comment or public interview of prospective candidates, even by fellow council members. Besides the clear violation of free speech, these actions appear to violate the state Open Meetings Act. Rather than disband this study session, as Mr. Huson attempted to do when he left, the disorderly few should have been removed and the meeting reconvened according to RCW 42.030.060.
Bradley stated his reasons for proposing such a drastic change in the rules. First of all, he stated a concern for his own personal safety due to a disruption of a study session by two angry and frustrated citizens even though there was no threat to his person at that meeting. He walked out at the first minor disruption, causing even more disruption by his actions. A copy of the audio of this meeting is available at http://rustonconnection.org/audio/20080114council_studysession.mp3. Secondly, he stated, he wanted to get the town business completed in an efficient manner. Without such limited public input, issues are being pushed through very ‘efficiently’ and quickly.
When approached about the possibility of citizens writing (via email or other means) to Bradley regarding town concerns, he stated that he would not respond to these concerns. He offered as a reason that there had been excessive public information requests. He stated that he would be willing to talk to people if they were to visit him at his home. So far, this has not been tried. I asked at least one citizen to go with me to Bradley’s house, and they stated they were afraid of reprisals on Bradley’s part.
Another issue is that Bradley Huson’s primary residence is in Seattle and not Ruston. He does have a home in Ruston, but it does not appear that he lives there most of the time as observed by several of his neighbors. When he is at his Ruston residence, Jane Hunt and Dan Albertson are frequently seen visiting him there. Of course, no one knows if these are just social visits or visits for the purpose of setting Town Council agendas which, of course, would be against the Public Meetings Act of Washington.
The council has not consistently applied their own rules. For instance, a builder (not a Ruston citizen) went over his two minutes expounding upon an issue that the council majority agreed upon. Wayne Stebner, one of the three council members supporting the new rules, stated at the council meeting of February 25, 2008 that the builder should be allowed to go over his time (although other citizens are not allowed to go over that two minute limit). Mr. Stebner stated that others had been allowed to go over their two minutes, which is not true. I have attended every single council meeting since the new rules took effect and never witnessed any such allowance. Clapping was allowed when the new police chief was appointed and the most recent council vacancy was filled. No clapping has been allowed for any other point of view since these new rules were imposed.
Another issue is the secret meetings three council members appear to be holding to predetermine council meeting discourse and issues upon which these three council members always agree. These private meetings and discussions appear take place, at least in part, under the guise of a Newsletter and Website called the Ruston Connection and those associated with it. As of January, 2008, only certain members of the community have access to this website. I suspect that information on that website could be quite incriminating if uncovered in terms of how a small group of citizens (I count 15 at most) are trying to take control of this town and push agendas counter to the wishes of the majority of the town’s citizens.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Ruston Connection is the vehicle through which they plan and implement their agenda. The newsletter co-editor announced in December that this is a private organization and newsletter (although it is delivered to every doorstep in Ruston monthly). The group began as a political action group called Citizens For Ruston, who ran the successful campaigns for 4 of the last 5 council seats, and who’s members have now been appointed to the last 2 council vacancies. Wayne Stebner, Dan Albertson, and Bradley Huson are closely associated with this group. Until his resignation in January 2008, Bob Everding was a council member. His wife runs their web site. I have tried repeatedly to log in to the web site and have been denied with no explanation and have repeatedly asked Virginia Caprio, one of the editors, why. She had no answer other than to ask me to call Sally Everding, the aforementioned former council member’s wife, in this regard. I have left a message on Mrs. Everding’s voice mail and have emailed her; the email response and my response to that email are attached. I have tried twice since receiving Mrs. Everding’s email to log in and have not been allowed in.
I have confronted the council about these secret meetings or communications and have been met with nothing but denials. The three aforementioned council members continue to agree 100% of the time on all issues and are pushing their agendas counter to the will and wishes of the citizens of the Town of Ruston. They come to each council meeting with obviously pre-scripted remarks regarding town issues. They have made it very clear that they do not care to hear from us.
The reason this is happening, I believe, is due to power-grabbing by a small minority of citizens. They don’t want any discussions counter to what they desire to happen in Ruston. By keeping us silent, they can pretend they have our agreement. There is a strong sense of oppression at meetings now. Even people who had spoken routinely at previous meetings are no longer using their limited 4 minutes per month to speak.
What steps have we taken? We have repeatedly spoken up about these issues at council meetings. I know others have spoken at meetings and in private with these council members. There have been some limited silent protests at meetings and some media coverage (attached). I submitted a formal letter at the March 3 meeting to the council to ask them to reverse these rules. I am copying the auditor’s office. The local newspapers have been contacted again. A complaint on the most recent council appointment will be filed with the state secretary of state, attorney general and the state and local elections office for violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.
All this attention and effort has not even produced an acknowledgement of a problem from the council, much less any change. The only response was for Mr. Huson to call us “caged animals” or that we were “worse than the women at Purdy prison”. (see attached).
I would like the ACLU to demand that the council cease and desist with their limits on freedom of speech on behalf of the citizens of Ruston and to investigate the role the Ruston Connection and its participants are playing in this regard. All public business should occur in open public session. We demand a council that will not only allow input from their constituents, but will act in the best interest of the full community, not a small special interest group.
We are very anxious to have the situation addressed quickly. The council has seemingly unlimited power at this point and can do great damage to the Town of Ruston if not stopped soon. Documentation is listed in the enclosures section and is being sent to you along with this letter.
Cc: Auditor’s Office
Articles from The News Tribune and The Volcano (local weekly publication)
Copies of The Ruston Connection
Letter to the Ruston Town Council
Letter from Bradley Huson
Article from Ruston Connection web page with Bradley Huson’s council rules
Article from Ruston Connection web page with Bradley Huson’s rules for recent council appointment
Transcript of portions of council meetings
Ruston Town Council Meeting Minutes and Agendas