A crowd of vaccination opponents hoping to dissuade the Spokane City Council from kicking Councilman Mike Fagan off the county health board erupted into shouts of “coward” when a chance to publicly testify was denied them Thursday afternoon.
The shout, which first came from Fagan, was aimed at Council President Ben Stuckart during a meeting in a stifling City Hall basement room that has low capacity and poor visibility because of giant pillars that block sightlines. Many attendees had to stand.
About 50 people came to hear the council debate a proposed letter from the council to Fagan asking him to “clarify” his recent questioning of the safety of vaccinations and linking infectious disease outbreaks to illegal immigration.
The letter suggested that if Fagan didn’t “clarify” his position in way that jibed with the Spokane County Regional Health District position on vaccines, he would be removed as one of the three City Council representatives from the district’s governing board.
On recommendation of Councilwoman Karen Stratton, the council deferred voting on the letter in favor of “drafting a resolution setting and defining expectations, outlining responsibilities and defining criteria for removal for council members on all boards and commissions.”
Stuckart backed her proposal, saying the “freedom of speech issue has been confused” with the council’s ability to appoint and remove members from the city’s various boards and commissions.
“Those are two separate issues, completely,” Stuckart said, noting that the council wouldn’t have appointed Fagan to the health board if it had known he was against vaccination.
Fagan spoke strongly against Stratton’s proposal, suggesting the council was violating his rights.
“I’m afraid that the majority is going to pass some rules that are going to be tyrannical,” he said. “Even in a democracy, we are melting pot of ideas and opinions. … If you squelch those ideas and opinions, you’re basically denying people representation.”
Councilman Mike Allen sided with Fagan and said removing him would be a “hit on the freedom of speech.” He said later that Fagan was wrong on vaccinations.
Councilman Jon Snyder spoke most forcefully against Fagan remaining on the board, at one point calling some of his views “insane.”
“I totally reject the notion that we are taking away Mike Fagan’s voice by removing him from the board,” Snyder said. “The truth is, we are looking at whether Mr. Fagan can represent the City Council’s views.
“I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I want to go back to the work of actually governing this city. This is a distraction. I’ve hit my limit with it and that’s why I think he needs to be pulled from this board,” Snyder said. “To compare vaccinations to forced sterilizations to me is insane and is an insult to folks all around the world who are dying to get vaccinations that would help them live, and to people who have actually had to experience forced sterilization. To conflate these things with unsettled science to me is a danger.”
The council approved Stratton’s motion 4-3, with Fagan, Allen and Snyder voting no.
Since the item on the agenda – the letter – was not taken up by the council, no public testimony was allowed, and the crowd erupted.
“You’re a coward,” yelled Steve Depiro, the first of many to yell at Stuckart from the audience. “We make the rules, not you. We voted you in, buddy.”
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