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Sunday, October 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley City Council to end public comment early if residents break rules

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 28, 2019, 5:46 p.m.

Spokane Valley residents may have their public comment time canceled for the night if other residents break the rules of public comment time during a meeting. Spokane Valley City Hall in a photo from earlier in 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Valley residents may have their public comment time canceled for the night if other residents break the rules of public comment time during a meeting. Spokane Valley City Hall in a photo from earlier in 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

After a tense exchange between a resident and the mayor over splitting Washington into two states, people in Spokane Valley will now have their council public comment period revoked for the evening if anyone goes over the three-minute time allotment.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, the only man to comment, Don Meier, asked the Spokane Valley City Council to take a position on state Rep. Matt Shea’s proposal to split Washington and name the eastern half “Liberty.”

Meier also asked the council to take a stance on Shea’s statement and “manifesto,” a document Shea took responsibility for that condemns same-sex marriage, abortion and lays out instructions for a “holy army,” which includes a passage to “kill all males” who don’t follow biblical law.

Meier’s statement took longer than three minutes and he continued past the buzzer the council uses to enforce the time limit on public comment. He then continued to speak after Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins told him his time was up.

When Meier kept talking, Higgins said Meier’s comments were getting political and gaveled the meeting to break for 10 minutes. Upon resuming the meeting, Higgins said public comment was over for the night.

During the 10-minute break, Meier said he felt compelled to speak out because Shea’s behavior reminded him of Richard Butler’s rise to power. Butler, a racist who led the white supremacist group Aryan Nations had a compound in North Idaho and wanted to create a white homeland.

After the meeting ended, Higgins said he didn’t gavel the meeting because of the content of Meier’s speech, though it was getting too political and Shea’s actions aren’t city business, but because Meier was told repeatedly that he went over time and he did not stop speaking.

“People are treating public comment as a right under state law, it’s not a right,” he said. “We permit it.”

The Spokane Valley City Council has discussed the state of Liberty before. In 2016, three men who are no longer on the council discussed the proposal, but Higgins said the council didn’t act on the proposed state of Liberty as a whole. He added that one of those council members, Caleb Collier, made comments about Liberty. Higgins speculated that’s likely why Collier is not in office anymore.

Spokane Valley reduced public comment time last year, and Higgins and Deputy Mayor Pam Haley said the council had discussed a policy change for people who break public comment rules.

After the council had to cut the microphone several years ago of a woman who refused to stop speaking, Spokane Valley leaders already had a plan in place to cancel public comment. From now on, Higgins said, if someone goes over their time and doesn’t listen to warnings or the council’s buzzer, public comment will be over for everyone.

He said he will also add those rules to the public comment instructions he reads at meetings.

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