Mt. Vernon council distances itself from Beck honor

by Erik Lacitis, Seattle Times

On Wednesday night, the City Council of this town of 32,000 distanced itself from Mayor Bud Norris, who plans to give the keys to the city to talk-show personality Glenn Beck on Saturday.

The seven-member council unanimously passed a resolution proposed by member Dale Ragan that stated, "Mount Vernon City Council is in no way sponsoring the Mayor's event on September 26, 2009 and is not connected to the Glenn Beck event in any manner."

The resolution came after two dozen people who had signed up for the public-comment part of the session spoke in often emotional language to oppose honoring the controversial talk-show host.

Beck, who just made the cover of Time magazine, was in the news recently for labeling President Obama a "racist," a statement that brought a boycott of dozens of advertisers from his Fox TV show. He is recognized as a polarizing figure.

"This man has done nothing for the City of Mount Vernon and its citizens," said Rhonda McDonald, of Mount Vernon. "If you want to give a key to the city, give the key to the chief of police."

Earlier in the evening, Police Chief Ken Bergsma had been honored by the town's Kiwanis Club for his many community efforts, such as fundraising for playground equipment.

During Wednesday's meeting, the council was presented with a petition bearing more than 16,000 names from those opposing the honor to be bestowed on Beck at the sold-out, $25-per-person event at McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon.

The petition was an online effort by Fuse, which describes itself as a Seattle-based "progressive advocacy group."

But the petition didn't have 16,000 verified names, its director Aaron Ostrom acknowledged. Anyone could type in any name, and residence and sign as many times as they wanted.

The mayor also cleared up a story that had gone viral on the Internet, in which supposedly only one media pass had been given out to the Saturday event.

That was not the case.

There will be five press passes, Norris said. He said he hasn't quite figured out how they will be doled out, though.

"Maybe some kind of drawing, maybe we let the media people decide among themselves," he said.

Norris said the story about limiting press access was due to "the way I interpreted what they [Glenn Beck's representatives] had to say. Something was lost in the translation."

Most of those speaking before the City Council on Wednesday night were Mount Vernon residents, with some "non residents." Someone from Anacortes was considered an out-of-towner.

It was a colorful evening, with orange T-shirts bearing the legend: "HATE IS NOT A MOUNT VERNON VALUE" sold for $5 each by Nancy Hoffman, 56, a retired Mount Vernon teacher. She said she was selling them at cost.

"We really need to talk civilly again," she said. "Glenn Beck agitates people so they can't talk in civil terms."

Norris said he has had no second thoughts about presenting Beck with the key to the city.

He said he simply wanted to honor someone who grew up in Mount Vernon and now is on the national stage.

About the key, Norris said, "It's a key that fits nothing."

He said it's actually a plaque with an embossed key, which he estimated cost $50 to $80 from a trophy shop.

The council meeting filled up a courtroom where it was held, and the total attendance of some 100 people spilled into an adjoining room, where people could watch the proceedings on a screen.

Usually, said Eric Stendal, an aide to the mayor: "We have more staff than people showing up."

article originally published at Seattle Times.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey