Longtime Activist Ejected from Neighborhood Group
Chris Leman, a neighborhood activist who was arrested for assault at a city building in 2009, has resigned his longtime position at a citywide neighborhood group after another "incident."
Chris Leman, a citizen activist well-known at city hall for filing massive records requests and protesting city processes, including the limits on how long people can speak at council meetings, has resigned his position at the City Neighborhood Council in the wake of an "incident" after a January CNC meeting that ended in a 911 call and, reportedly, a restraining order.
The CNC is an umbrella group for the city's neighborhood councils that has traditionally advocated for single-family neighborhoods as a bulwark against densification, as well as for sidewalks, street repairs, and park improvements; Leman, who used to chair the group, has been one of the most vocal advocates for its views.
Back in 2009, Leman was arrested for assault when he showed up at the Seattle Department of Transportation office after hours demanding documents related to the city's pedestrian plan; when the receptionist said she didn't have the documents, he allegedly shoved her and then threw her cell phone against the wall when she tried to call security.
Leman (usually extremely voluble) wouldn't say anything about his resignation when we reached him last night (he said we'd "talk some other time"), but here's what reportedly happened, according to several people familiar with the incident: After the CNC's January 27 meeting, Leman and some other members of the group continued to talk "animatedly," in the words of CNC member Dick Burkhart, about the group's annual budget conference as well as some other subcommittee meetings that Leman said CNC co-chair Laine Ross had excluded him from. (Yes, neighborhood group disputes are exactly as picayune as you'd expect.)
Leman then reportedly followed one of the group's vice chairs, Catherine Weatbrook, out to her car, where he reportedly continued to press her on the dispute they were having. After he refused to leave, Weatbrook (who has not yet returned a message seeking comment) reportedly called 911 and subsequently got a temporary protective order against him.
Four days later, the CNC held an "emergency meeting" to draft a resolution expelling Leman from the group, but ultimately suggested a reprimand "for failure to take sufficient steps to monitor and control his behavior" instead. Burkhart says that since Leman resigned, there's no longer any need for either resolution.
In response, Leman and Suzie Burke, president of the Fremont Dock Company and a representative of the Lake Union District Council on the CNC, resigned.
Burke, in a lengthy letter that includes sentences like, "The Chair had the only copy and refused even to pass the resolution around the table," called the meeting a violation of the group's bylaws because, among other things, the group resorted to Robert's Rules of Order—like I said, picayune—announced their resignation.
Burkhart says the whole situation is sad. "Chris is the one who’s been [involved with the CNC] the longest; he has a lot emotionally invested in it and he really wants to see it succeed," he says. "It’s hard on him and the CNC too. Obviously, it was not handled as well as it could have been." He adds that the incident shows that the Department of Neighborhoods, which used to staff the CNC, should get involved with it again.