Councilman apologizes | Talks with elementary students about angry confrontation with bus driver on May 11
By ELIZABETH CELMS
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
May 25, 2010 · Updated 12:09 PM
City Councilmember Mike Grady has apologized for erupting in anger at West Mercer bus driver John Lamont on May 11 after the latter allegedly passed him unsafely and cut him off while biking along West Mercer Way. According to Grady, he was heading southbound on West Mercer Way when three buses that “appeared to be in a hurry” passed him on their way to pick up children at West Mercer Elementary. The last of the three buses, driven by Lamont, passed Grady dangerously close, the Councilmember said, and then cut him off abruptly to turn into West Mercer Elementary.
“I was riding as far to the right of the road as possible, and by law had the right-of-way,” Grady said in a written apology to the teachers, parents and students of West Mercer Elementary and the community. “The last bus ... cut in front of me, proceeded all the way to the right of the road and then slammed on its brakes to make a quick left turn into the school turn-off. Had I not locked both brakes on my bike and veered sharply toward the right ditch, I would have ended up under the bus, likely pinned under the five-ton vehicle as it turned quickly into the school.”
Incensed by the incident, Grady followed Lamont into the West Mercer student loading area where he began yelling at the bus driver for his unsafe actions and, using his status as Councilmember, threatened to have Lamont’s license revoked. Profanity was also used, according to Lamont, and students in two nearby classrooms were able to hear Grady’s outburst. Grady corroborated this statement and said that he deeply regretted his behavior. The Councilmember said he did not, however, realize that students in nearby classrooms could hear the altercation.
“Had I known there were students around, I wouldn’t have yelled,” he told the Reporter.
Shocked by Grady’s behavior, Lamont relayed the incident to Mercer Island School District Transportation Director Todd Kelsay and Superintendent Gary Plano. The superintendent then contacted City Manager Rich Conrad to discuss the issue, as is protocol when conflicts arise between the two sides.
“I phoned Rich to express my disappointment and concern because Grady used his role as Councilmember in some way to punish the driver. I expressed deep regret at the incident,” Plano said.
Grady also contacted Plano to apologize for his behavior and asked to arranged a meeting to discuss the incident.
On the city’s side, Conrad discussed the issue with Mayor Jim Pearman, who spoke personally to Grady.
On May 18, Grady formally apologized to Lamont, Kelsay and Plano for his actions. He also explained his concern about safety between cyclists and bus drivers on West and East Mercer Way.
“I had the right-of-way. I was legally using the road. If the bus drivers had waited a few seconds and not passed me, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Lamont said that he followed protocol and all bus driving safety measures when passing Grady.
“Normal procedure is to give cyclists a wide berth and that’s what I did. I also checked both my right side mirrors to verify that I had substantial distance between him and the bus. I put on my left turn blinker because I was turning into West Mercer. As I looked into the rearview mirror, he indicated his displeasure with well known sign language,” Lamont said.
Although he accepts Grady’s apology, Lamont refuses to accept his actions.
“The altercation with Mike was so severe that I actually was somewhat stunned. Fortunately, there were witnesses around to hear what took place,” he said.
Transportation Director Kelsay backs Lamont’s opinion.
“It’s one thing for [Grady] to be angry — that’s understandable. What I don’t get is him coming onto school property and continuing on like that,” he said.
As for the West Mercer students who heard Grady’s outburst, the Councilmember sent them a written apology entitled “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.” In the apology, he laid out the proper way he should have handled the situation.
“After regaining my bearings, I should have calmly approached the bus drivers and asked them why they were in such a hurry to pass me on such a dangerous stretch of road with bikers, walkers and buses. Instead, I let my fight/flight response cloud my judgment. I let my adrenaline, and not my brain, get the better of me,” he wrote.
Grady asked teachers to sit down with their students and discuss the May 11 altercation and how it should have been handled. He also offered to come into classrooms and speak with students about the matter.
“I hope you will accept my apology and my offer to meet with you,” he wrote.
Mayor Pearman said that, as of now, Grady’s position on the City Council is not jeopardized due to the incident. The mayor carefully reviewed city rules on how to legally handle the situation.
“I asked for legal review and whether any Council rules or regulations were broken. I also asked, ‘What is our responsibility?”’ he said.
According to Pearman, Grady has not breached any Council rules in his actions. Although his behavior reflects poorly on the Council he represents, no repercussions will follow unless the district decides to take action.
“Each Councilmember is elected by the people. We, the Council, don’t have the power to remove that person from office,” Pearman explained. “At this point, there are no charges. It’s in the school district’s hands right now. They have to make a decision about what this means and what they wish to do with that.”
Conrad added that, in this particular incident, Grady stands on his own to defend his behavior.
“This issue is between Mike and the school district. There’s nothing of a formal or official role to the city at this point,” the city manager said.
According to Kelsay, this is the first time in his three-year career at MISD that a cyclist has confronted one of the district’s bus drivers.
“I’ve never had a cyclist complain about a bus driver, and certainly nothing of this magnitude,” he said.
In fact, it is usually just the opposite.
“More often than not, it’s cyclists failing to [yield to] the bus’ stop panel and a bus driver expressing concern that someone may run over a kid,” Kelsay said. “It can be challenging, but we have to pass cyclists along the Mercers at certain times. And I think our drivers have a really good record.”