Man outraged over new Bothell rule that prohibits large signs

For many years, James Barnhart has carried his large signs into Bothell City Council meetings, addressing mostly what he sees as city corruption.

For many years, James Barnhart has carried his large signs into Bothell City Council meetings, addressing mostly what he sees as city corruption.

His signs have ranged from comparing the city to the former Soviet secret police, the KGB, to signs citing city codes about malicious prosecution.

He carried two of those signs into the Jan. 8 meeting, which slammed Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb and a police officer.

He was met at the doors of the Bothell Municipal Court with resistance when he tried to bring those same signs into the Jan. 15 meeting.

“I came in the front doors of the courthouse and Deputy Chief Henry Simon got out of his chair and asked me to go back out in the foyer,” said Barnhart, a longtime Bothell resident. “He said I can’t bring my signs in anymore unless it meets the council’s new protocol.”

Simon handed him a public comment notice, which outlines the council’s new policy regarding signage at council meetings.

According to the new guidelines: “No speech, comments or remarks that continue too long, relate negatively to other individuals, or are otherwise inappropriate (personal, impertinent, slanderous, rude or boisterous) will be allowed in the meeting.”

These restrictions also apply to all forms of speech – including signs, which are now limited in size to 93.5 square inches, or a sheet of letter paper.

In order to “avoid disruption and crowding in the meeting,” anyone bearing a sign larger than 93.5 square inches will be required to remove the sign from the meeting chambers, or they may be barred from the meeting if they refuse, according to the changes.

Barnhart told Simon he would comply, but “it was a bunch of crap,” he said.

Joe Beck, Bothell city attorney, said the council brought up the issue of signage during its recent council retreat and they decided to amend the provision in the protocol manual regarding public comment to include signs.

He said the manual outlines visitor rules, including that remarks to the council should be limited to three minutes. However, there was no provision for any other kind of speech.

“Signs were not allowed under the protocol manual,” said Beck, noting that Mayor Lamb approached him to discuss the issue and that the council also took up the issue during a couple open meetings. “He was torn because he didn’t just want to come down on people and be heavy handed on what was allowed in the protocol manual. So ultimately what (the city) came up with was allowing some form of signage because we didn’t want to limit people with buttons on their lapels or even small signs coming to the meeting.”

Barnhart believes the new policy violates his freedom of speech.

“I’ve been going in there a long time with my signs and no one has ever banned me,” said Barnhart. “My signs are just exercising my free speech rights – they have never caused a disturbance.”

He said carrying a smaller sign to the meeting or even speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting doesn’t have the same impact.

“During the public comment portion, Mark Lamb is so intimidating and can cut you off easily that you can’t always get words out,” he added.

Barnhart is also outraged that the council made the changes without the public’s input.

“The council can’t willy nilly go off like Adolph Hitler into the mountains – it ain’t happening,” he said. “They’re trying to pull a fast one, it’s garbage.”

However, Beck said the provision is not a freedom of speech violation. Under state law and the Open Public Meetings Act, the council is required to hold open meetings and the public has the right to attend, but council meetings are not free speech forums, like a more traditional place, such as a public street.

He said the law is clear that while people can attend the meetings, they do not have the right to comment unless the council allows that.

Beck noted that carrying a large sign is analogous to “people shouting in the council chamber.” He said the new policy will help the city maintain civility during meetings.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Pexel Images
Two patients contracted COVID-19 while at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland

A press release from the hospital states it has contacted 100 employees that had various levels of exposure, and that the direct source in this case is unclear

Virtual town halls coming up for unincorporated King County

Events throughout September and October via Zoom will cater to different areas of the region.

Seven decades later, the search for two missing Navy pilots continues

The pilots are thought to have disappeared near Black Lake, northeast of North Bend.

A view of the Palmer Fire, located seven miles southwest of Oroville in north central Washington. Source: InciWeb
Antifa isn’t starting Washington wildfires

Online conspiracy theories are spreading as the West Coast burns.

The truck of the Renton family as it was found Tuesday. While fleeing the Cold Springs Fire two adults were severely burned and one toddler died. Courtesy photo/Okanogan Sheriff’s Office
Toddler killed as Renton family flees Cold Springs Fire

The parents were severely burned and are being treated at Harborview Medical Center

A plane drops fire retardant on the Palmer Mountain Fire last week. The fire is listed as 84 percent contained, and fully lined. Laura Knowlton/Sound Publishing staff photo
Threat multiplier: How climate change, coronavirus and weather are scorching WA

Dry summer conspired with the pandemic and a wind storm.

Screenshot from the state Employment Security Department’s website at
Workers may qualify for an extra $1,500 in unemployment back pay

A federal program will give some of the state’s unemployed a $300 weekly bump for the past five weeks.

Screenshot of the air quality monitor at 11 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8. Courtesy Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
King County faces unhealthy air quality due to wildfire smoke

Weather monitors recommend people limit time outdoors, especially children, seniors and those with heart or lung disease.

Image courtesy of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Massive wildfires incinerate WA

All state Department of Natural Resources lands were closed to recreational activities on Sept. 8.

Evergreen Academy Preschoolers make donations for Blueberry Gardens Senior Care. Courtesy photo/Evergreen Academy Preschool
Photos: preschoolers make homemade crafts for Bothell seniors

Students from Bothell Evergreen Academy Preschool are learning the value of spreading joy in the community

Pictured left to right: Former Congressman Dave Reichert, Slade Gorton, and King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn visit Washington, D.C., to testify in favor of the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area designation. Courtesy photo
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton dies at 92

Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton died Aug. 19 in Seattle at age… Continue reading

Highlighted in yellow box sits the Chaipatanapong property, where Kenmore hopes to place a new public works facility. Courtesy photo/City of Kenmore.
Kenmore family questions eminent domain case involving culturally significant property

Mayor David Baker said he is ‘disgusted by the accusations’ regarding warehouse acquisition.