Patriotic hymn saves the day at Joseph City Council meeting

The congregational-style singing of “My Counry “Tis of Thee” defused a potentially explosive situation at the Aug. 3 Joseph City Council meeting. The incident occurred just a few minutes into the meeting during the citizen comments portion.

Joseph citizen Raider Heck stepped to the podium for his three minutes. He read from a letter addressed to the city from an unnamed person who said he or she worked for the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Services field office in Pendleton. The letter addressed the recent departure of the city’s public works supervisor Jim Lewis and the city’s resulting lack of a qualified person to monitor the city’s water treatment plant and distribution system.

The letter also stated the agency had sent a a similar letter and report to Joseph mayor Dennis Sands on its assessment of the city’s water treatment issues. It also said it was considering what if any enforcement actions to take regarding the lack of proper management.

Heck proceeded to read another letter of unclear origin stating that Sands had failed in his nine years of leading the city to improve its infrastructure as well as its communication, staffing and financial woes.

“You don’t have to look too far to see that’s failed on all counts,” Heck said. “Name one thing the city has gotten better at or improved in the last nine years.”

Heck went on to accuse Sands of supporting a dysfunctional staffing structure fraught with waste, lack of knowledge, poor record-keeping and a lack of accountability.

An audience member interjected to ask if Heck were conducting a personal attack on the mayor, and Sands and at least one audience member called a point of order. Others pulled out cell phones to call law enforcement.

“Point of order? This is my time to talk. You had yours,” Heck replied. He continued to read over audience protests and the banging of Sands’ gavel.

“My time’s not up,” Heck continued.

The letter also blamed Sands for the loss of several employees and allowing the city to pay former City Administrator Donna Warnock’s health insurance for a year although she had quit without training a replacement.

As Heck continued reading other allegations against Sands over growing audience protests and more gavel banging, an audience member broke into song:

My country, ‘tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of thee I sing;

Other voices quickly joined in and in less than 30 seconds, the singers effectively silenced Heck.

“I’ll recover my time,” he said in response.

“You’ve had more than your time,” Sands replied.

Sands suggested Heck submit a letter to the council to be read out loud as mayor’s correspondence. He added that Heck was well over the three minutes generally allotted for citizen comment.

“You can carry on any time you want,” Heck said.

Sands immediately jumped to the next agenda item. Heck departed soon afterward.

This was not Heck’s first time registering protests at a city council meeting, but was one of his most vociferous.

Officers came to city hall but did not come inside the building. Heck was confronted outside and told to leave the scene.

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