Spokane City Council will still do business virtually to start 2021, but the new year will bring the return of an old pillar of its meetings – open forum.
Nine months into the pandemic, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs will reinstate the almost-anything-goes session in which members of the public are invited to speak to the council on any topic.
“There’s not, like, something that happened, like the law changed, it was just a matter of figuring it out,” Beggs told The Spokesman-Review. “It’s just a matter of adjusting … there’s not some legal ruling or something that said, ‘Oh, we can do it now.’ ”
The council transitioned to holding its meetings on WebEx shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide shutdown in March.
It took time for everyone in the council office and CityCable5, which broadcasts the meetings, to get used to the new system. The council began the pandemic by eschewing its normal 6 p.m. legislative sessions, instead combining them with its regular 3:30 p.m. briefing sessions.
Initially the council was not taking public testimony on its legislative agenda items, but it has now been doing so for several months. After some notable hiccups – including confusion that strained and stalled a community forum on fluoridation in August – the process has run smoothly, Beggs said.
After its inclusion in one meeting this month, public forum will be back for good in 2021. It will be held at the end of council meetings, with up to 10 speakers being allowed three minutes each to speak.
Nicolette Ocheltree, who regularly participates in open forum, used its brief return on Dec. 7 to question why the council is just now reinstating it, and lament that it has been restricted to 10 people, with each member of the public limited to speaking once per month.
“It’s more important than ever to encourage folks to participate in activities that foster better communication between citizens and city leaders,” Ocheltree said.
Beggs said he prefers to have open forum, but also argued that there has not been a lack of public input on the wide range of issues the council has tackled in 2020. Council members often receive a deluge of emails on controversial topics.
“I’ve participated in open forum before I was on the City Council … It’s not really to inform council members of what’s going on, it’s for the speakers to feel acknowledged and to get a chance to speak not just to council members, but, really, the public.”
Those who wish to participate in open forum at the council’s Jan. 4 session can sign up starting at 5 p.m. by visiting forms.gle/WtfGZ3HqQuXCipcX9.
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