Elected members of the Walla Walla City Council (or any city council, for that matter) have the same right to political speech as any other citizen.
So when City Council member Myron Huie spoke at the recent rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp earlier this month and attended the downtown “freedom rally” in May (as did City Council member Susan Smiley-Nakonieczny) no laws or rules were broken.
The same goes for City Council member Riley Clubb, who spoke at a downtown Black Lives Matter rally in July.
However, when any elected public official (as well as top-ranking government officials at all levels) speaks they cannot say it’s as a private citizen. It doesn’t work that way.
When someone accepts a public role such as city council member (or city manager or police chief) they accept the responsibility and public trust that comes with the job.
These are not 9 to 5 jobs. What they say after 5 is just as relevant as what they say at 10 a.m.
What it boils down to is taking responsibility for their words and deeds.
Politicians — and city council members are politicians — by definition should express their political views.
This can help them win elections. However, they also risk blowback from their constituents. It’s a double-edged sword. While those at these rallies might agree with what is said by council members, those with opposing views might not.
In the end, if voters like what they hear they will vote to re-elect them but if they are outraged or even just a bit irked, they can vote them out of office.
None of this has anything to do with whether the political rallies should have taken place or whether the governor’s COVID-19 mitigation rules were followed or ignored. That’s an entirely different public issue.
And, as such, this is a matter for the Walla Walla City Council to legitimately address.
But the City Council, as a whole, has zero authority to restrict its elected members from expressing publicly their views on city government, partisan politics and other issues.
In the end, the Walla Walla City Council members answer to the voters, who get the final say as to whether they are re-elected or ousted at election time.