Reader view: An open letter from the ‘peanut gallery’

I’ll admit it, I enjoy watching our city government in action. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree with their decisions. That’s life. I believe that being an active participant in the democratic process is a responsibility we should all share.

In case you don’t know it by now, we’re in the middle of budget season. The Edmonds City Council meetings are particularly interesting and very important as they decide how to spend our money. Our city has seen better financial days, and the council recognized our current situation and needed to declare a fiscal emergency to pay for ongoing expenses using rainy day funds. Hence the importance of the current council meetings as they try to stabilize our finances.

During the course of the meeting on Tuesday, there were a number of occasions where the audience chuckled at the discussion coming from the dais. I wouldn’t say it was disruptive or disrespectful, more as a surprise at the comments being made. What caught my attention, though, was at one point a councilmember acknowledged a gasp from “the peanut gallery.” Really, we were actually called the peanut gallery. Is that what they truly think of us?  Obviously at least one councilmember does.

Let’s look at the definition of a ‘peanut gallery.” Most definitions would include something to the effect of: “people whose criticisms are regarded as irrelevant or insignificant (resembling uneducated people who throw peanuts on the stage to express displeasure with a performance).” I do not believe our citizens should be characterized as irrelevant, insignificant or uneducated. And just to be clear, nothing was thrown at the councilmembers.

So, what do our other elected officials think? In light of this characterization coming from the dais, I would like each of our elected officials (current and future) to post a comment here about how they view the citizens of the city they were elected to represent.

As a reminder, this chart depicts the city’s recognized organization. Who’s supposed to be on top?

— By Jim Ogonowski

Jim Ogonowski lives in Edmonds.

  1. Gosh missed that part, being part of the peanut gallery is much more generous than I would have thought, my guess is they were hiding their true feelings for the people who elected and pay for their pittance of a salary. Our council are the haves they have the money and they have the time and have no respect for the citizens who participate which is clear from recent tax increases and their approval of spending more of our money than we even have. I have complained about the explosion of spending over the last dozen years guess who bought off on that spending that’s right council. Now that the funny math can’t keep us solvent any longer they are for the first time in a long time feeling pressured by not just being able to rubber stamp the budget.

  2. Jim, your inputs have been invaluable to us of late, and now and at different times, many other residents have been significant volunteers and contributors (to the benefit of us all). I remember the comment you mention being made…unlike you, I didn’t take it to be offensive and am sure it wasn’t meant to be. On this Thanksgiving Day, I extend my gratitude to all of the engaged residents and volunteers like you who give their time to our City.

  3. Mr. Ogonowski,

    Heckling staff members during presentations is inappropriate at council meetings, I don’t care how unpopular the budget cuts are. They are not politicians, they are just trying to do their jobs and deserve to be treated with respect as civil servants.


    Councilmember Jenna Nand, Pos. #7

  4. By your own definition, Jim, it is the criticisms that are irrelevant or insignificant, not the people who toss the criticisms like peanuts. These people are not so, but their criticisms are. Even if elected officials have little respect for some of their constituents’ points of view, it is bad form to refer to them in derogative terms.
    That being said, in reading comments in MENS, I would maintain that many criticisms found there are irrelevant and insignificant. This may not apply to those expressed at council meetings, but it may account for some of the frustration on the part of council members who read MY Edmonds News.

  5. I had a related but somewhat different reaction to the reference from a council-member to their audience as the peanut gallery.
    “According to linguistics experts, the origin of the phrase “peanut gallery” derives from the late 1800s Vaudeville era, a popular style of entertainment that included jugglers, comedians, singers and more. The “peanut gallery” was the cheapest section of seats, usually occupied by people with limited means.
    The peanut gallery became associated with children through the popular 50’s children’s television program The Howdy Doody Show, which included the Peanut Gallery,-bleachers full of children who sang along with the cowboy puppet’s songs throughout the show.” and who screamed with delight watching the show’s resident clown, Clarabelle, chase other adults around the studio while spraying them with his seltzer bottle.
    My take was how fortunate it is that the council deliberations are open to an audience of citizens and for the opportunity, for that group to observe the proceedings, attentive to the various give and take moments of deliberation.
    I think the council does its best work when remaining aware that there is a large group of interested observers who like the traditional peanut galleries have an interest in
    paying close attention to the proceedings. I am thankful that opportunity to observe, either in person or remote exists in Edmonds thereby providing the most important aspect of the challenging work of the Edmonds City council: An audience that is paying attention and cares about what is being offered.

  6. I would encourage you to email your letter directly to each council member. There is no guarantee that all of them will read it here on this platform. I have found that communicating to each directly ensures your comments will be seen. I email each of them directly, not a group email. That way I can address each one by their name. Their response, or lack of, will be instructive.

  7. I listen to citizens and share my knowledge in an honest manner. For the record, I have made mistakes but do acknowledged and apologized, if necessary.

    I’ve worked with numerous CMs and these last four years have been more challenging for citizens as it appears CMs were/are pushing their own platforms not realizing taxpayers money is always at stake.

    Citizens have never complained more about codes or policy and treatment of these issues have been confusing at best.

    Remember the bike lanes, walkable Main, the BD2 zone change to allow residential and our attorney actually ignored existing code? Or the 2121 budget debacle when reserves were first tapped without CM approval? Or requests for multi-family design standards, updated environmental codes, financial transparency, emergency planning, affordable housing, etc – all remain controversial. We had to repeal #4079 (our Hwy 99 development) because the City had not completed specified requirements.

    However, code update have been a consistent issue for decades as a weak code makes a weak Council.

    Read all the commentaries from Messrs Reidy, Scordino or Ogonowski and have we seen many code updates, environmental changes or changes in policies? I’ve been ignored as the “institutional dinosaur” who gets conduct violations because I ask the tough questions.

    Change is needed and Citizens do matter; and I’m hopeful these next four years, attitudes will be different.

  8. Yeah this is making a mountain out of a molehill. I was watching the meeting via Zoom when this comment was made. Contextually it was an appropriate thing to say and I’m disappointed that it’s being inflated to this degree. I really appreciate council and staff for their work on the budget so far. It’s a really difficult situation. Let’s give them some grace and allow them space to be open and honest about the work they’re doing.

    1. Thank you, Mary, a lot of hatred is being directed at the city staff right now. Mistreatment of our city employees contributes to our high attrition rate at the city.

      1. Jenna some of the staff has been dishonest or at least manipulative which is not in the best interest of the local citizens. To depict them as some kind of victim is disappointing and I would hope that you are better than this because it means that you are complicit. The high attrition rate was because of the leadership within the city. Not concerned and well-meaning citizens. It’s time to get real.

      2. Councilmember Nand,

        Using inflammatory words such as “heckling” and “hatred” when speaking of citizens exercising their right to participate in the democratic process is highly inappropriate, divisive, and disrespectful of your constituents. Councilmembers are charged with representing citizens, not verbally abusing them as you have done. Blaming citizens for staff “attrition” is completely absurd. Highly paid directors would not resign because of citizen input to their Council. You’ve taken current and former elected officials tactic of blaming Council for staff resignations to a new low.

        Please read your fellow Councilmembers comments expressing thanks for valuable input from citizens. You have a lot to learn about how to represent the people of Edmonds.

        1. Joan, like your fellow former council members, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Ron Wambolt, you are welcome to say anything you like as a member of the public. But I think comments like this reflect far more on your character than they do on mine.

        2. I appreciate these comments, Joan. As a citizen who has had to ask Councilmember Tibbott to stop talking to Councilmember Paine while I was making my 3 minute audience comments, I think there is much room for improvement.

          Following is an excerpt from the April 25, 2023, Edmonds City Council Meeting Minutes:

          She preferred if it was not broke, don’t not fix it and for council to focus on actual issues facing the City and not fall prey to a very vocal minority that have issues with the city attorney. Of the 43,000 people in Edmonds, 99.99% do not have a problem with Lighthouse or the services they provide.

          I found the labeling of citizens “a very vocal minority” hurtful and was alarmed at the use of the term “fall prey”. Edmonds citizens have the right to participate with our local government. I think citizens who chose to do so deserve to be treated with respect.

          The following taken from the Edmonds Code of Ethics is helpful:

          Keep the community informed on municipal affairs and encourage communications between the citizens and all municipal officers. Emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public and each other; seek to improve the quality of public service, and confidence of citizens.

  9. A good reminder that the citizens of Edmonds are at the top of the hierarchy chart. Not partisan political parties, the mayor, council members, or even staff directors. For example, with staff directors, recently one director put out a bogus survey to the community that really had more to do with their own bias, instead of finding out the opinions of the community. Recently another director had a presentation which had questionable statistics and basic mathematics errors to promote their own agenda to raise revenues.

  10. Peanut gallery is a term referring where black people sat in theaters in the segregated south.

  11. On this Thanksgiving day I am thankful for:
    – Teresa and My Edmonds News for keeping us well-informed
    – Our City Council members who manage to wade thru volumes of agenda related information and arrive at Council meetings prepared to discuss multiple issues
    – Our city staff who chose a public service career over more lucrative private sector employment and who work diligently on our behalf.

    THANK YOU FOR all you do! I can’t think of any place I’d rather live.

  12. It’s Thanksgiving, so a related story. Prior to running for office, I regularly attended Council meetings. At one meeting, CM Mauri Moore asked developer Bob Gregg, who was in the audience, to come to the podium and comment on a development issue. I was stunned, and appalled, and said loudly from the back row “Why Bob Gregg?” Mayor Haakenson replied “Ms. Bloom. Don’t make me come back there.”

    Ron Wambolt was a Councilmember at the time, and his wife, Shirley, attended Council meetings. Shirley, seated in the middle of the room, turned and said to me in a stage whisper “What’s he gonna do? Spank you?” Shirley Wambolt was a playful, vivacious and delightful woman. I’m thankful for this lovely memory I have of Shirley.

    1. Thank you Joan, many of us have wonderful memories of Shirley but yours is so very special. Thanks for sharing.

  13. And Joan I’m very thankful to you for sharing this memory of Shirley who I continue to miss more and more every single day.

    1. Ron,

      I am so sorry for your loss. Shirley was a wonderful woman and was so fortunate to have you as her amazingly supportive and loving husband. I appreciate how much you must miss her. This story was for you. I laugh and cry when I remember Shirley. She touched many lives.

      1. Joan, thank you for sharing your wonderful memory of Shirley. I was lucky to have some nice memories as well. I learned much from observing Ron and his unconditional devotion to Shirley.

  14. Citizens have a right to attend Council meetings but in my opinion, they do not have a right to disrupt them. Council should be able to conduct business on behalf of the citizens they represent in an orderly manner. Save the heckling and chuckling for the audience comments portion of the meeting.

    1. Thank you, Jeremy, we are all working hard on behalf of the community at council members, and being repeatedly interrupted by loud, mocking laughter when you’re trying to work is very disheartening.

  15. I have been to a number of meetings where a reasonable chuckle would be the in order. Are you suggesting we should codify chuckles. Maybe have chuckle police standing guard. Certainly, some chuckles banning signage with an emoji could be placed above the dais. Possibly the council could try to come up behaviors or presentation that are never chuckle worthy but that’s too much to hope for, I guess.

    Having racial slurs, like “peanut gallery” stated by council the other hand apparently, it’s not offensive to you. Interesting.

  16. CM Nand,

    Over the last two years I have provided the Council much analysis and insight into our financial position, mostly in private communications. If Council were to relook, they would see that our current financial situation was forecast over a year ago and no action by either the administration or Council was taken to avert it. And with full transparency and collaboration we could have. The Council is faced with some difficult decisions that need to be made now and not delayed to next year. This will not get better with time. I would listen to CM Chen when he says we’re headed towards bankruptcy. Personally, I think his amendment for expense reductions is a bit short, however it’s in the right direction.

    So yes, I am frustrated because I care about our city. I would welcome the opportunity to present and testify before the Council. I’ll anxiously await my invitation, however, won’t hold my breath.

    1. Mr. Ogonowski,

      As I’m sure you know, since you are a regular audience member at council meetings, community members testify before the dais all of the time as part of council business. If you would like to join a relevant community group or seek a board appointment that would make sense for you, you could also testify in front of the council.

      A lot of hard work goes into planning our meetings, and we try to be respectful of everyone’s time, especially late into the evening.



  17. CM Nand, Jim and others have worked diligently to understand the ins and outs of the budget. The city does not have a board or commission that specializes in data and ideas relating to budgets. The council does have a finance committee but no public input is allowed.

    The data that Jim has provided directly to council has turned out to be very helpful for the council’s work. Some of that work has been posted to MEN for the public to see, digest, and comment upon.

    Hopefully the new council will find ways to better gather data and analysis from citizens on topics that are not part of any existing Commission or Board. Or better still council could create a commission or what ever that would serve as vital input to the various council committees.

    The referenced analysis was provided to all council members in a way that simply is not available at the 3 minute mike. Based on comments from other CM’s they have reviewed Jim’s analysis and asked staff for information that would help confirm or deny the analysis. From what council as revealed so far in its budget work, the analysis has been helpful.

    All citizens should be heard and if they have supporting data, the data should be reviewed for accuracy.

    What will council do with the new red light data?

    1. Hi Darrol,

      That sounds like a great potential subcommittee for the Economic Development Commission. If I were you, I would inquire with Director Tatum and Meghan Luttrell to see if they have administrative capacity to support such an enterprise. They are a very small department and we recently denied their request for an additional FTE.

      As I keep on saying, the City of Edmonds runs on its volunteers. Thank you for all of your work on the EDC!



      1. Hi Jenna, actually this EDC does not have the ability to do this kind of work unless council were to change its charter. The first EDC did have a broader charter to look and city revenues and the first work we did was not only rejected be then the charter was changed to prevent such work. The EDC has a full plate of work.

        What I am suggesting is a better way to serve the council with public input. Each CM has committee assignments. Here are yours for 2023: Public Safety, Planning, Human Services and Personnel Committee. How can the public input to you and other CMs about the important tasks you do on those committees? No public input is allowed. Better still each of these committees could have a set of volunteers that want to help with your work. Edmonds is blessed with a wide range of talents and today about 150 folk can serve on existing Boards, Commission, and Committees.

        Council could try the concept of public input for your committee meetings and see if it would be helpful.

        I served on both EDC 1 and 2. When a previous mayor wanted to restart the EDC the council at that point did not want another EDC. It has always been a mystery why that was so. Thank for the comment about our work.

        1. I know that some of the councilmembers have set up informal citizen taskforces to advise them on various matters, which have the agility of not having to meet OPMA requirements if less than four council members attend and the added benefit of not requiring staff time or consultant fees.

          The downside is that these informal taskforce can create an echo chamber for the councilmembers involved, because there is not an open, competitive process to join them. And they are more likely to pick people who agree with them on the issues to advise them.

          Significant staff time and consultancy fees are used to support the work of the City’s 17 boards, committees, and commissions (by my last count). At a time, when we are trying to avoid layoffs due to inflation, I don’t know how we can pull away more staff time from the vital work of the city government to support additional citizen initiatives administratively.

  18. Well, I was hoping the election results would somehow make a difference in whatever is the problem (or problems) here in Edmonds in terms of strong feelings, but there is sure a dust-up at this point. I have read ALL of the comments back & forth, though I was not in attendance at the meeting in which the snickering and other comments were made, but it seems that there is still hostility or ill-feelings going on from some quarters, regardless of who started it. CM Nand has made an interesting suggestion to Mr. Ogonowski–is there a finance “board” for the City that Mr. Ogonowski could sit on since he has provided per his comments a lot of financial information to the City? Somehow something is getting lost in the works to have all of this arguing back & forth on this forum. It seems counter-productive. Perhaps the City needs to incur one more expense: a mediator to mediate between citizens and council members cuz this, this right here, isn’t working folks. Hopefully MEN will close these comments at this point. Fingers crossed that she does and that Mr. Ogonowski seeks a board appointment where he could apply his considerable skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough history of Edmonds to know if Mr. Ogonowski has already served in such a capacity.

    1. Thank you, Pamela, for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I always appreciate your thoughtful approach to current events.

      The mood in the room on Tuesday night was extremely ugly, and I was getting significant looks from many people in the crowd whom I respect as the night wore on. Many other audience members were apparently upset with the loud, disruptive laughter and comments emanating from one corner of the room throughout the meeting, which lasted for hours. I am not the chair of the council meeting, that is supposed to be the mayor’s job, and I would not have made a motion to ask the chair to scold audience members for disruptive conduct unless someone was actually being threatened.

      Mayor Pro Tem Tibbott was doing the best that he could under the circumstances, in my opinion. But I have been attending council meetings ever since I decided to run for council in 2018, and this Tuesday night’s council meeting was the worst I could ever remember witnessing, either as an audience member or as a council member, in terms of audience conduct.

      I sincerely hope that this sort of blatantly disrespectful behavior does not become the new normal.

  19. Cm Nand drew the ire of citizens with her comment but instead of a apology she has doubled down. I understand her point but is a no win situation.. to fish or cut bait.

  20. To tell the editor of a newspaper to close comments IMO goes against Freedom of Speech. Teresa does a great job as does her staff in allowing LTE and comments from all sides of the spectrum.

    1. We do close comments on articles when the comments start repeating themselves, and I think we have reached that point with this one. Thanks as always to everyone for weighing in.

  21. Jenna,

    Here I somewhat agree with you. The city does have a great heritage of volunteerism. However, I’m not sure their work is recognized or appreciated. Tuesday’s council meeting was another opportunity lost. Early in the meeting there was a discussion about the vision statement for the city. It was presented solely by staff even though the discussion was about Planning Board edits. Why wasn’t a Planning Board member invited to sit at the table and answer questions directly from Council? All too often, our volunteer citizen’s input from the boards and commissions they participate on is filtered through city staff as it comes before Council. Being at the table would go a long way to demonstrate that they really matter and aren’t relegated to the peanut gallery.

    We have another opportunity at this coming Council meeting. A presentation will be made on the Landmark site. Will we see EDC and Planning Board members at the table with staff and consultants for what is arguably the most consequential and important decision the Council will make? After all, they were to have been part of the process. The Council has a right to be able to ask for their thoughts and answer your questions directly.

  22. FYI, my 74 year old mother—who cares for my father with dementia and has lived in Edmonds since 1995—Googles my name every night and calls my sister crying about the cruel things that are said about me online by this crowd. That’s why I will come here and defend myself from all of you. I’m not going to let her read these terrible comments and think that I am too intimidated to defend myself. She raised me to have a backbone.

    Maybe some of the people who like to talk tough behind a keyboard should think about the impact that they are having on real human beings with families and people who care about them. Public servants don’t exist to be punching bags. This sort of deplorable behavior is why it is so difficult to convince good people in our community to run for city council in the first place.

Comments are closed.