Spokane city leaders got an increasingly testy earful tonight from critics of last week's decision to ban "Bridge to Hookerville" from use during council meetings.
Two audience members used the term anyway while addressing council members during the open forum portion of the meeting, with one urging Council President Ben Stuckart to have him arrested so he could file suit against the city. Civic gadfly George McGrath, whose repeated use the term is what prompted the ban, avoided using it tonight, instead calling it the $20 million footbridge to a "high prostitution activity area," which is the phrase the city uses on signs posted around a section of East Sprague Avenue.
Several audience members accused the council of trampling on their free speech rights.
Stuckart and others, however, said the term is banned from use only during council meetings when used as a derogatory reference to the struggling East Sprague area, a neighborhood that he said is trying to get things turned around. He said McGrath had ignored requests to stop using the term, which several council members declared offensive, and that the law provides the council president with the ability to make sure meetings are conducted in a manner of mutual respect.
Although no one was arrested, Stuckart abruptly shut down the meeting a few minutes early after an audience member yelled out that the council was hiding behind claims that it was trying to protect the feelings of those who live in a struggling neighborhood. A Spokane police officer followed the heckler out into the lobby.
The estimated cost of the planned bridge, which would span a wide railroad corridor and link the north and south ends of the growing University District, has been trimmed to under $12 million and efforts are underway to try securing state help with paying for it.