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Wednesday, July 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council limits participation in weekly public forums

George McGrath, of Spokane, testifies at a Spokane City Council meeting in 2003. McGrath rarely misses a council meeting and often testifies several times each meeting. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
George McGrath, of Spokane, testifies at a Spokane City Council meeting in 2003. McGrath rarely misses a council meeting and often testifies several times each meeting. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane city leaders decided Monday to limit how often citizens can address them at weekly public forums.

The Spokane City Council provides open forum time at the start and end of each Monday night council meeting. On Monday, the council voted 5-2 to prohibit anyone from speaking at the forums more than once a month.

Council President Ben Stuckart proposed the change. He said that while he campaigned last year for re-election, he heard numerous complaints about the open forum policy.

But about 10 people expressed concerns about limiting free speech before Monday’s vote.

“Perhaps the opportunity to comment is abused at times,” Stephanie Cates said. “But to that I say welcome to free speech.”

Council regular George McGrath, who testifies at most open forums, said the move was tyrannical and allows the council to hear only from people they agree with.

The change doesn’t affect public comment rules for individual legislation.

Councilman Jon Snyder emphasized that there still would be chances to speak publicly once a month.

“I love all of our regulars,” he said. “All we are limiting is your time on television.”

Council members Karen Stratton and Mike Fagan voted against the change.

“As hard as it can be, I’m not willing to limit public participation to once a month,” Stratton said.

Fagan wondered if the move was “pandering” to Planned Parenthood. He said he believed the change deliberately targets McGrath, who regularly brings up abortion at the meetings.

Stuckart said he believes the change actually will encourage others to speak.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref echoed Stuckart and said the available open forum slots were often being taken up by the same people week after week.

About eight people spoke at Monday’s opening public forum. One man, Alan McDowell, chastised the council for being on their phones during meetings. Then, while remaining at the podium, he placed a call, which he said was to his former high school shop teacher. He left a message while addressing the council.

Others expressed concerns about City Hall parking, abortion and city snowplows.

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