A nerve has been struck in Black Diamond, and residents were not afraid to share their thoughts with the city council.
When the dust settled after the two-and-a-half hour meeting on Nov. 4, it seemed many feel the council is ignoring the will of the people, especially in light of a failed resolution promoting vaccine inclusivity.
The resolution, which aimed at “supporting and affirming the dignity of all citizens regardless of vaccination status”, was introduced at the Oct. 21 meeting, and after 40 minutes of debate, was voted down 5-2; Council members Chris Wisnoski and Melissa Oglesbee, who both introduced the resolution to the council, were the only votes in favor.
First to take the mic during the public comment period was Melissa Earl, who isn’t a Black Diamond resident but owns the Lumber House Brewery in town.
Earl was particularly concerned that the Black Diamond City Council was not representing the majority of the city, but their own opinions, when it came to voting down the vaccine inclusivity resolution. While the resolution would have had no authority if passed, it would have been a rebuke of King County’s vaccine verification mandate requiring people to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test before entering restaurants or bars.
“No city council member should be… expressing their voice. It’s the community’s voice that you’re supposed to be referencing to. You’re supposed to ask the public’s opinion, and you’re supposed to live to the public opinion, not put your own on the plate,” she said. “You don’t have to be happy about it, but you do need to understand that your community’s voice does matter, and we’ve never been asked.”
Earl went on to say that she feels like she’s “between a rock and a hard place.”
One one hand, neither she, nor her staff, have the training or authority to enforce the vaccine verification mandate, Earl said – but if she doesn’t comply with the mandate, she could face penalties from Seattle – King County Public Health.
But things could get even worse if she does.
“I have no right to tell [my customers] what to do with their body because I’m not a medical professional, and I’m not a cop. So I can’t enforce it. I will tell you, though, that the liability falls squarely on my business,” she said. “If I tell them to go get vaccinated and they get a shot and they die or have medical issues for it, I’m the one that pays the bill. I’m the one that gets the hit. Not the employee, not the federal government, not the people creating the vaccination.”
In short, she concluded, she needs help — or, at the very least, “support from my council members.”
“I don’t appreciate that I can’t find any support from any level of the government,” she added. “Why is that happening, and why is nobody helping me find a way to protect my business after putting it into this town?”
Black Diamond resident Robbin Taylor was the next to lay into the council. Like Earl, she believes the council has been insulated from the citizens, mostly because of the pandemic and its effects, like how the council had to stop meeting in-person and conduct business over the Zoom meeting platform.
“[The] result of being shut away from your constituents has robbed you of seeing the reactions to the votes you have taken, the statements you have made, the positions you have taken, and so on,” she said. “Simply put, the in-person council meetings cannot be replaced, and it should not be replaced again. So much takes place behind the laptop screens, and citizens begin to feel their concerns have become unimportant.”
Later on in the meeting, Taylor blasted the council members that voted down the vaccine inclusivity resolution.
“When the resolution to honor the vaxxed and the unvaxxed alike was presented on Oct. 21, 2021, several of you said it was a political statement. One said it was a shameful statement. Another stated getting the shot was the patriotic thing to do, and later, that it was no big deal. Several stated, we have bigger issues to deal with,” she continued. “Honestly, I have not witnessed such tone-deafness since the council of 2016. You all tried to pawn yourselves off as patriotic and above this ‘tiny issue,’ but [what] you actually succeeded in doing was telling your unseen constituents that they are unpatriotic, making a big deal out of nothing, not doing their civic duty… and their concerns are so tiny compared to all the big, important issues before you.”
While the resolution would have not affected the King County vaccine verification mandate, “at least [businesses] would know they are sending revenue to a city that supports them in their quest for freedom and their desire to just remain in business,” Taylor concluded. “I urge you to reconsider your vote on that resolution.”
Glen Yadon, who recently lost his bid to be a city council member in the recent November election, echoed Earl’s and Taylor’s thoughts about the council not listening to the public.
“This isn’t easy for me to say, but you guys have lost contact with your constituents,” he said. “Without fail, almost every home I’ve gone into, they talk about how council doesn’t listen; doesn’t matter what we think; they’re going to do what they want. Guys, in a town this size, and with this history, that’s sad.”
Later on, during the second public comment period, Yadon said he hoped the council didn’t feel like he “slammed” them, but didn’t back down from his position.
“I don’t think for a minute that you guys purposely are [not listening to constituents]. But this is where I think we need to start talking about appearances,” he said, specifically mentioning the vaccine inclusivity resolution. “Quite honestly, from a citizen’s perspective, it did not look like to me — and I think that’s what you’re finding out now with the citizens — it did not look like to me that you gave it a lot of thought… And I think, unfortunately, that was a time when the ball kind of got dropped. It was an opportunity to show the community, ‘Hey, we’re behind you.’”
Another five members of the public spoke at the Nov. 4 meeting; in addition to being concerned about the failed vaccine inclusivity resolution, several speakers expressed dismay at Council Member Kristiana de Leon’s suggestion that the city shouldn’t hire two additional police officers next year, and instead use that money elsewhere in the city. Those comments were made during an Oct. 28 budget meeting; de Leon told the Courier-Herald in a later interview that she has not yet decided whether to move to strike the money for the additional two officers from the budget.
“I am concerned about the growth and the potential of not controlling the growth in this town in terms of crime. We look at the surrounding cities… and the exponential growth in violent crime, and how that’s going to bleed into this community over the next couple years,” said resident Oscar Rodriguez. “So, reassuring our infrastructure in public safety is important to me.”
“The amount of things that have gone on about adding officers is kind of… disheartening, because every single person on that council knows how amazing our police are,” said former Council Member Patrick Nelson, who now lives in Texas, but continues to have ties to Black Diamond. “Saying you don’t want to add an officer is disrespectful to the city, to your constituents, and it shows the character of a council member that doesn’t believe in supporting the city’s growth in the police department… I hope all of you understand that the majority of this city supports the police, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”
The Courier-Herald reached out to the Black Diamond City Council for comment.
Council member de Leon said that she worked hard to continue to listen to the Black Diamond community through the pandemic in order to not be isolated from her constituents.
“I offered Zoom sessions, phone calls, and, when safe, in-person meetings. I attended in-person events including any of the big events happening in Black Diamond the past several months. I shop in the same local businesses. I’m out in the same parks. And… I was able to go door-to-door and speak one-on-one with residents,” she said in an email. “I heard lots about the skate park, lots about the roads, some about fireworks, some about the fire contract, a lot about the future of our retail space, always about zoning and traffic, but absolutely nothing about vaccination status.”
“I do think the City Council is accurately representing Black Diamond as a whole but we can always do better. Legislating and engaging with the community is always better in person than behind a keyboard and screen,” said Council member Bernie O’Donnell. “These are divisive times throughout our country no doubt, and we see similar divisiveness right here in Black Diamond. We have outspoken groups on social media but they don’t always represent the majority of Black Diamond residents.”
Council member Debbie Page also believes she is accurately representing the voters.
“Having been appointed in April, I have spent much time over the past seven months attending community events listening to residents and reaching out to residents who email and phone me as well,” she said. “We have deep conversations and I appreciate the perspectives. Each conversation gives me more information. Our city has many voices and I listen to them all.”
Despite the encouragement from some members of the public, Council member Melissa Oglesbee said she does not plan to reintroduce the vaccine inclusivity resolution for another vote before she leaves her position in the next few weeks.
“The majority of the council made it very clear of their feeling regarding the vaccine inclusivity resolution. After hearing from our residents and businesses owners, I will continue to stand up and support them,” she said. “I truly believe if we don’t stand up for our freedom and the United States constitution then we will fall for anything!”