Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Today's dose of bad government reality comes to us from Vancouver City, Washington.  Councilwoman Jeanne Harris is in definite need of a chill pill.

Ah, petty tyranny....such an unattractive thing:

Not only is Ms. Harris inexcusably obnoxious, but the rest of the council, with the sole exception of Jeanne Stewart, were a study in enabling.  The mayor's half-hearted gaveling of the second man was breathtaking in it's ineffective weakness.  He knew Harris was in the wrong, but did not speak up or even attempt to.  When Ms. Stewart finally called Harris on her incivility, Mayor Leavitt had a perfect opportunity to put Harris in her place. Instead he sat there like a spineless lump while Harris then dressed down her own colleague, to the point of making unsubstantiated allegations that the people who were speaking were supporters of Stewarts. 

In her quickly issued apology - two days after the incident - she states:

Two days after she told another Vancouver City Council member at a public meeting to “get out of here” and “shut up,” Councilor Jeanne Harris publicly apologized.
She said Wednesday in a statement that she had “behaved in a manner that is not normal for me,” and wished to apologize to the council, the mayor and the public.

Hmmmm....Considering the reactions of her colleagues - heads down, eyes averted, refusing to speak or engage - it is far more likely that she was behaving in a manner that is quite normal for her.  Those people have obviously had to deal with that behavior before.    They are taking the "don't attract her attention or you're next" posture.  That is something that comes after having to deal with certain behavior over a period of time.

Here's the kicker, though.  The next day, two of the councillors decided to man up and file a complaint about her treatment of Stewart (apparently it's okay to treat constituents like she did - but that's another post).  They sent a request to the mayor's office for an ethics investigation into her behavior.

Harris took offense to the fact that they filed a complaint without coming to her first.  Apparently she found out about it from a voicemail from a reporter:

“This is rash and uncalled for,” she wrote. “Especially to send out a press release without talking to me first and hearing my side of the story … I take this allegation as a very serious matter and yet no one had the courtesy to call me?”

Yeah, because she's all about courtesy.

Now she is demanding they drop the complaint and ...:

She also asked for an apology and said she won’t be at the Sept. 20 meeting, when the council is supposed to decide on whether to form an ethics committee to investigate the complaint. She said that she will be at a fellowship

Most likely working on her martyrdom.  By the way - the fellowship was a privately funded trip to Germany.  Her position?  "Goodwill Ambassador", of course.  No, really.

The newly minted goodwill ambassador had this to say in an email to her colleagues:

“Looks like I’ve lost two policies and we’ve received numerous rude phone calls that my 19 year old customer service rep has had to listen to. Apparently the gavel incident is now on utube (sic). Thanks for making my life hell.”

Yup, it's all their fault people are calling to protest her boorish behavior and have decided not to do business with her.  It's also their fault that the clip of her acting like a shrewish petty dictator got on youtube.  Who else's fault would it be?

Harris has mentioned a difficult divorce as a contributing factor to her outburst.  It might be feasible to blame a quick outburst on stress, but the prolonged haranguing, the attacks on her peers, and the continued aggression in emails speaks of deeper issues.  This does not seem to be her first outburst, it's just the first one caught on tape and posted on Youtube.

The citizens who were attempting to speak were residents who did not want the light rail to go where it was going.  They wanted to be heard - something Leavitt and Harris have apparently have not given them the opportunity to do. They have every right to be heard.  Which is why Councilwoman Stewart was right to try to call Harris out on her behavior. Which brings us to the question - is Councilwoman Harris drunk with power or cracking under pressure? 

Either way, she should not be in office.



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