The public comment process at Spokane Valley City Hall will be changing after two recent votes by City Council members to reduce comment time and change when those comments occur during council meetings.
The City Council voted Tuesday to shift one, 45-minute public comment period – typically at the beginning of meetings – to midway through meetings.
The city previously allowed two, 30-minute periods for public comments during council meetings, particularly when a large number of residents were present to speak or when the meeting concerns a controversial issue.
City officials voted 6 to 1 to eliminate a second comment period at a Nov. 13 meeting under changes to its governance manual, and instead proposed to extend one 30-minute comment period to 45 minutes.
Councilwoman Brandi Peetz dissented at the Nov. 13 meeting, stating ithe opportunity for residents to be heard would be limited.
Mayor Rod Higgins said during an Oct. 2 council meeting that an additional public comment period is used as an accommodation for residents, but the city isn’t required under state law to allow it.
Councilman Arne Woodard said at the Nov. 13 meeting plenty of opportunities exist at formal council meetings for public comment and it may behoove the city to consider when the public comment period occurs, rather than reinstating two comment periods.
“If there really is that need for people to get here after 6:30 p.m. to make a comment, often when the first public comment period occurs, then maybe positioning of that comment period is a different issue and could be addressed relatively easy,” he said.
Woodard said in November the public comment changes aren’t about suppressing residents’ opportunity to be heard, but allowing the council to conduct city business in a timely fashion. He noted there have been public comment periods in the past that lasted more than two hours before the city began to discuss agenda items.
“The problem we have is that we have the city to try and run,” he said. “This is a business meeting for us. If there’s really a hot-button item, we certainly would like to hear about those things.”
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