The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Is there no sense of decency? Rant at City Council reaches new level of incivility

In Brian Fagan, City Hall on September 11, 2008 at 7:35 pm

Are City Council meetings supposed to be frightening?

Can a City Council ban someone from meetings?

Wednesday evening’s council meeting turned uncomfortable — frightening even — for about five minutes during an hour-long public comment period with 100 or more people in the audience and with little anyone seemed able to do.

At one point, Brian Fagan, who was leading the meeting as mayor pro tem, warned against comments that were personal in nature.

At one point, too, Police Chief Greg Graham, in uniform, and a second uniformed officer, whom Graham had eyeballed across the room and signaled to come to the front of the room, both got up and edged closer to the lectern.

By then, the speaker, former City Council candidate Robert Bates, closed his presentation, said he would be back next week, and walked out. The chief and officer followed him out, but Bates got in his truck and drove off.

Bates’ presentation had been wandering, ineffective, intimidating, abusive, finger-pointing and, at-times, podium-thumping. He used profanity, yelling and what sounded like sexual references, and at times addressed specific, pointed, personal attacks at council members and someone from Minnesota, which apparently was the city manager.

In the geography of the council’s temporary meeting place — the auditorium at AEGON USA, 4333 Edgewood Rd. NE — City Manager Jim Prosser sits closest, which is close, to the podium from which the public and city staff addresses the council.

Bates is no stranger to council meetings, and when there, usually comments from the podium. A big man, he sometimes refers to the time he spent in prison, a reference he made again Wednesday evening.

Perhaps his most spectacular outburst to date came at a City Hall session last fall in which a citizen successfully challenged signatures on Bates’ petitions, which denied him a place on the ballot for the 2007 city election ballot.

Now he may have new reason to be unhappy. He was flooded from his house on First Street NW, which faces the Cedar River levee.

One theme of his message Wednesday evening seemed to be that the council wasn’t doing enough.

  1. His attendance appears to have at least one benefit — members of the Council do not fall asleep.

    I would not support banning this individual from the meetings. I will agree with the author that Bates’ presentation was wandering and abusive but he appears to be the lone voice at Council meetings on several issues (unsolved murders, etc.).

    I will disagree with the author of this article and state that I (a) did not find him to be frightening and (b) thought Bates’ presentation was effective. I believe his presentation was effective because Mr. Bates and some of his issues are still getting attention. Will anyone forget his plea for the police department to solve 5 African American murders? Other speakers that were “civil” have long been forgotten.

    I think it is a breath of fresh air to have an impassioned speaker at the meeting that will have the courage to speak his version of truth to power.

    Bottom line – his message got through while others did not. At times finger-pointing, podium-thumping, profanity, yelling and sexual reference work, especially at a boring meeting.

  2. […] I wasn’t at the city council meeting where Robert Bates rammed his ramblings down everyone’s throat, but I heard the clip on Bob Bruce’s show on WMT and here’s what Rick Smith reported: […]

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