YELM — Wal-Mart is a bad word in Yelm. Even referring to the retail giant in code is a no-no.
Mayor Adam Rivas won't let the public address the City Council if he even thinks they might mention the unmentionable.
Residents say it's censorship, but the city says it's just trying to protect itself if a legal battle brews over Wal-Mart's plan to build in this small town about 15 miles southeast of Olympia.
Residents have been able to say less and less about Wal-Mart at council meetings during the past five months.
"Initially we couldn't use the term 'Wal-Mart,' so the code word became 'big-box stores,'" said Gregory May, who heads up a Wal-Mart opposition group in Yelm. "They then just announced they would no longer accept any comments about Wal-Mart or big-box stores."
Some citizens are stunned that they've been silenced by the people elected to represent them.
"They just stop you short in your tracks," said Kellie Petersen, who owns a gardening store in town. Petersen is one of several people who have spoken up despite the restrictions.
"My issue was about traffic concerns. I knew enough to use the word 'Wal-Mart' at the very end, so I wouldn't be told to sit down," she said.
Yelm's city attorney, Brent Dille, said council members were fed up with requests that the city impose a moratorium on the large stores. But he also said they don't want to appear biased if an appeal of Wal-Mart's application comes before the council.
This isn't the first time the council has silenced the masses.
In April, it unanimously approved a motion banning the word "moratorium." That was in response to citizen requests that the council enact a moratorium on big box stores so the city's staff could review the city's decade-old zoning.
Instead, the city passed a moratorium on moratoriums. Meeting minutes say Council Member Bob Isom moved that "no moratoriums be imposed and that the issue not be brought before the council again."
And when a group was considering building a NASCAR track in Yelm, the council wouldn't allow public comment, even though an application was never submitted.
"It's the council's meeting. They can decide what they want to hear and what they're tired of hearing," Dille said. "You can understand if you're barraged for two months at meetings _ the same people saying the same thing."
The Yelm Commerce Group has said that if the city approves the Wal-Mart application, it will appeal.