And then there were two. At the January 9th Irvine City Council meeting, many dozens of residents turned out to air their anguish over the Israel-Hamas war and the mounting mass casualties. Many spoke of relatives or friends either dead, injured or endangered.
But most of the public commenters did not get to address the full Council, as one by one Councilmembers Mike Carroll, Kathleen Treseder and Tammy Kim left the meeting before residents who had signed up to speak had a chance to be heard.
Carroll, who participated in the business portion of the meeting via Zoom, was home sick and left the meeting after regular Council business was concluded and public comments were getting under way. Treseder was next to leave the meeting followed by Kim.
Councilmember Kim’s departure — which automatically ended the meeting due to a lack of a quorum of the five-member Council — happened while about 20 people who had waited all evening to speak were still in the queue.
Mayor Farrah Khan was then forced to gavel the formal meeting over. But then, in an unprecedented move, Vice Mayor Larry Agran suggested that he and Mayor Khan volunteer to stay and hear out the remaining speakers, which they did. In the end, everyone got their say and the meeting concluded without incident about 45 minutes later.
Treseder later apologized for leaving the meeting, saying: “I was not feeling well and needed to leave. I stayed as long as I could.” On social media Treseder elaborated by saying that she “did not feel safe.”
Councilmember Kim was neither ill nor apologetic, releasing her own statement regarding her departure:
“Tensions ran high in the chamber as emotions flared on both sides of the issue. The Mayor’s failure to effectively preside over the meeting, allowing continuous heckling and shouting without enforcing warnings. Unwilling to tolerate racist tropes aimed at speakers, I refrained from intervening to avoid escalating into a public argument with the Mayor, which would have been out of order. I prioritized fulfilling the duties entrusted to me by voters. After addressing city business and being fully present for three hours of public comments unrelated to the City Council’s jurisdiction, I concluded the meeting.”
Kim’s explanation drew a retort from Khan.
“Leadership is tough,” Khan said. “We are elected to be stewards of the public trust. I’m focused on representing Irvine residents, even when it’s uncomfortable. Unfortunately, Councilmember Kim abdicated that responsibility when she left the Council meeting because she couldn’t handle the public discourse.”
“We must do better and be better in the most challenging of situations,” Khan added. “The way I look at things, leadership and service are about stepping up, not walking out. I look forward to Councilmember Kim fulfilling her duties moving forward.”
Vice Mayor Agran agreed with Mayor Khan, saying residents should be able to speak publicly and the job of the Council is to sit and listen, regardless of their own personal views. He said that the news and images coming from the Middle East had made many residents feel powerless. “This is something we can do locally,” he said. “We can provide a forum for people to be heard, even when it’s regarding events that are taking place half-way around the world that nevertheless impact us here in Irvine.”
And, he added, local officials are government’s “first responders” — the ones closest to the residents and voters. “If you can’t be heard at City Hall,” Agran said, “you might as well give up on American democracy.”
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