By Jim Tortolano
Another struggle in the Vietnam War was fought – symbolically – at the Westminster City Council meeting Wednesday night. Loud, angry arguments among council members and shouting from the audience punctuated the gathering, as several issues related to the long-ended conflict were taken up.
Much of the meeting was consumed by a verbal battle over a March 5 resolution commending Vietnamese actress Ngo Thanh Van (also known as Veronica Ngo) for her work on a film combating human trafficking.
Councilmember Tai Do objected to the commendation and wanted his name removed or the commendation rescinded. That began a lengthy – at times heated – argument between Do and Mayor Tri Ta.
A motion to rescind the commendation and issue a new one with the names of members Do and Sergio Contreras removed failed on a 3-2 vote. A new motion to remove the names of Do and Contreras from the resolution for the record was approved on a 5-0 vote.
While politics were not explicitly mentioned during the debate, Ta defended himself by saying “I am anti-Communist.”
Another issue, a resolution to ban representatives from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and members of the Vietnamese Communist party from visiting the U.S. also proved to be contentious.
Do argued that the resolution was “purely symbolic” and was “all bark and no bite.” He went on to say that council members were using the resolution and other issues that might be of particular interest to the Vietnamese community “as a way to cover up for our mistakes.”
He added that “Vietnamese are 50 percent of the city, but what about the other 50 percent?” and called for better risk management and lower taxes. Do nevertheless joined the council majority in backing the resolution.
During Do’s lengthy statement, Ta eventually sought to cut him off, saying it was time to move on with a vote. Do objected, saying “I have a right to speak,” but City Attorney Richard Jones upheld the mayor’s prerogative to limit debate. “I am the chair,” said Ta. “I am the chair.”
Another item produced controversy. The council approved on a 5-0 vote a request to establish a memorial in a city park to South Vietnamese sailors killed in a 1974 sea battle with Chinese naval forces in a territorial dispute.
A woman in the audience repeatedly voiced her opposition during the meeting and even sought to speak at the podium after the council had made its decision. She tried to talk anyway, and Ta sought to regain control of the meeting by repeating “This is not the time for a public hearing.” Finally two police officers escorted her from the podium.
Some of her supporters present said the reason she did not speak at the public communications portion was that the meeting starting time had been moved up from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. and she could not leave work.