The city council this afternoon rejected an appeal by incessant public commenter Alex Zimerman (given name: Avrum Tsimerman) that would have overturned a September 22 council decision to exclude him from council chambers for 28 days for off-point, abusive disruptions to council meetings.
Zimerman, the September 22 exclusion notice said, "made repeated outbursts outside of the public comment period" during two September council committee meetings in mid-September—behavior "which has interfered with the Council's ability to conduct its business."
Although council member Nick Licata did raise questions about whether the exclusion order violated Zimerman's free-speech rights, he also noted that Zimerman had repeatedly "disrupted other speakers" outside the official public comment period. Council member Sally Clark added that during a recent brown-bag meeting on homeless families, Zimerman had cut off invited speakers with "loud, disruptive laughter [and] shouting."
As we reported last December, the council adopted new rules enabling it to bar people from council chambers for up to 28 days if they engage in public outbursts that take place outside the formal public comment process or have nothing to do with items on the council (or council committees') agenda.
The rules were largely aimed at Zimerman and his fellow commenter Sam Bellomio, two members of "StandUP-America" (Zimerman identifies himself as the putative organization's president), who have routinely disrupted council meetings by shouting at council members that they're "Nazis," "communists,"
"dirty motherfuckers," and "the Gestapo." Zimerman also regularly addresses council members as, for example, "Heil Fuhrer Bagshaw," while brandishing his arm in a Nazi salute.
(Go to the Seattle Channel and click on any full council or council committee meeting video to see Zimerman in action.)
Although the new rules didn't bar commenters from addressing council members with vulgar language and insults (to the chagrin of some council members—as then-council president Sally Clark put it when the council adopted the new rules, "The fact that he's standing up there and saying 'motherfucker' over and over ... is certainly not behavior I'm willing to condone"), they do prohibit citizens from interrupting other people's testimony, shouting from the audience, or talking about matters that aren't on the council's agenda.
According to the Notice of Exclusion, Zimerman has routinely done just that. "You repeatedly use vulgar and offensive language that is unrelated to topics appearing on our agenda or made outside of your public comment period," the official notice, signed by council president Tim Burgess, says.
"For example, you repeatedly disrupt meetings with outbursts after the end of your public comment, by shouting out such things as 'you're fuckers' or 'you're fucking idiots.' You have also continued to shout out comments while other individuals are attempting to give public comment. Your behavior has required the presiding officer on several occasions last week to admonish you and ask you to stop your disruption."
Kimberly Mills, the spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes, notes that Zimerman "repeatedly uses vulgar language that's unrelated to what's on the agenda and outside the public comment period—shouting things like, 'You're fuckers,' 'You're fucking idiots,' and talking when other people are giving comments."
In his initial appeal of the exclusion order, scrawled by hand on two sheets of paper, Zimerman (whose first language is not English) says that "exclusion is trasspas is not ligal! Onli idiots and Nazi can [charge?] political trasspas!"
In a subsequent typed appeal, Zimerman charged that the council had "attempted to do a Constitutional crime and limit which citizens may participate in the political process ... by dissolving the three branches of government into a single branch of control"—that is, by not allowing a court to decide whether he should be prohibited from council chambers.
The council, Zimerman continues in his appeal, has targeted him because of his political beliefs, and does not apply the same rules to other citizens who want to address them.
Burgess declined to comment (his office told PubliCola that his position was thoroughly outlined in his exclusion notice to Zimerman), and city clerk Monica Simmons directed us to the language of the law,, which prohibits "disruptions," which "include but are not limited to ... [f]ailure of a speaker to comply with the allotted time established for the individual speaker's public comment" and "[o]utbursts from members of the public who have not been recognized by the presiding officer for public comment."
Simmons did note that a total exclusion from council chambers is "not common at all," in her experience.
Since the council kicked Zimerman out on September 22 (his 28-day banishment ends October 19), the activist has taken to marching in tight circles outside council chambers, wielding his red "StandUP-America" sign just in reach of the Seattle Channel cameras.