SEATTLE – When Richard Schwartz went before the Seattle City Council to offer public testimony earlier this month, he was greeted with disinterest.
As he approached the microphone, Schwartz noticed that some of the City Council members weren’t paying attention. He wanted them to look up before he started his testimony – which would be limited to two minutes due to council rules.
“It’s really discouraging to come up here and see all the heads down,” he said.
Councilwoman Debora Juarez interrupted: “Sir, you’re on a two-minute timer here – so let’s go.”
After an awkward pause, Schwartz asked for the time to be reset.
“No,” Juarez said. “No. We’re not going to. Just go ahead.”
By then, a chunk of Schwartz’s time had already ticked away. But the brief comments he made with his 90 remaining seconds have hit home with many who say the city’s elected leaders are disconnected from the public.
Q13 reached out to council members who were present for testimony for comment. No one on the council has responded.
Teresa Mosqueda, who was absent from the meeting to attend a national conference on housing and homelessness, responded to Q13 News via email Friday:
"As someone who has testified in the past to council and the state legislature for almost a decade, I understand how important it is to feel heard when testifying," she wrote. "I also know my colleagues feel the same way, and whether it’s 20 minutes of testimony or 4 hours of testimony, we are listening and often taking notes or researching items that are said during testimony."
Councilmember M. Lorena González also issued a statement to Q13 News Friday afternoon:
“Listening and learning from our constituents during public comment is an important part of my responsibility as an elected official. I apologize to the people of Seattle who believe we missed the mark on March 11. As a councilmember who represents the entire city, I regularly meet with Seattle residents on issues that matter to them. One of the best aspects of public service is my personal contacts with neighbors at community meetings, on the bus, at the grocery store and with those who come to City Hall to provide meaningful public comment. Receiving public comment, verbal or written, or having sidewalk conversations with constituents is a fundamental part of the democratic process.”
Watch Schwartz’s full testimony, below: