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caption: The panel at a community meeting held at the Taproot Theatre on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. From left, Josh Castle of the Low Income Housing Institute, Rep. Noel Frame, Councilmember Dan Strauss, Mike Cruzan of Seattle Police, and Karen Lund of Taproot Theatre.
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The panel at a community meeting held at the Taproot Theatre on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. From left, Josh Castle of the Low Income Housing Institute, Rep. Noel Frame, Councilmember Dan Strauss, Mike Cruzan of Seattle Police, and Karen Lund of Taproot Theatre.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

A highly charged public meeting in Seattle's Greenwood — but don't you dare record it

This story was updated on 10/19/2022.

Dan Strauss, the city councilmember for Ballard and Greenwood, attempted a media blackout of a public meeting on Monday night.

Strauss was one of four panelists at a forum on public safety at the Taproot Theatre in Greenwood. The meeting was convened by local businesses to discuss public safety and the possibility of a tiny house village for unhoused people.

The meeting came on the heels of the near-fatal shooting of a security guard at the Janus apartments on Northwest 85th Street, and what has been described as an open-air drug market across the street, between the Fred Meyer and the Bartell Drugs.

There were roughly 230 people in attendance (the theater’s max capacity), but the press were barred from the meeting, and Strauss made clear that he did not want anyone recording. Roughly 10 seconds after beginning to speak, Strauss noticed he was being filmed, according to four people in attendance.

Strauss turned to Karen Lund, Taproot’s producing artistic director, and said that people were recording.

Lund, who had been thrust into the moderator seat at the last minute, told the audience they could not record, and that they would be kicked out if found out. She told the audience that the media had not been allowed in so that “we can be candid with each other.”

According to Nikki Visel, Taproot’s marketing director, the media blackout came at the request of “a councilmember” — she would not say who, but Strauss was the only councilmember on the panel.

“A councilmember made the request that we turn away the press and said that we could and should do so, or they would not be able to speak candidly,” Visel said.

The press ultimately got into the mainstage area because Taproot staff decided to change course. Bretteney Beverly, the associate artistic director, texted Visel, who was on a flight home from vacation. Visel noted that a press release had gone out about the meeting so, yes, media should be allowed in.

“The objective that Taproot had all along was for the community to get together and problem solve and get reassurances,” Visel said.

Here’s why a media blackout is a big deal.

The press shares information about public meetings with those who cannot attend – maybe they have a disability, or work, or not enough money for childcare. Maybe they’re tired or anxious about Covid.

The reason doesn’t matter though: How can there be a reasonable expectation of privacy in a room with at least 230 people gathered to discuss a highly charged public issue?

Update 10/19/2022:

Rep. Noel Frame and Councilmember Dan Strauss called me today. Frame noted that while this was a meeting for residents, it was hosted by local businesses and held at a private site (Taproot Theater).

Frame said the start of the event was hectic, with the scheduled moderator unable to attend at the last minute. She said that she and Strauss were asked about the audience recording.

"I said, 'It's going to change the dynamics of the conversation if recording is allowed," Frame said. She said having the cameras rolling changes the tenor of a "conversation amongst neighbors."

In a statement issued Tuesday, Strauss shared his account:

"Upon arrival, I said to the organizers they might be able to create a safer, more candid space if they ask people not to record. I am sorry for suggesting that.”

In his statement -- and to me on the phone -- Strauss said his intention was "to foster an environment where people – neighbors of mine who have real, profound concerns about safety in our community – could have a safe space to speak freely."

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