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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council eyes August for return to in-person meetings

From left, candidates Breean Beggs, Mike Fagan, Phillip Tyler and Cindy Wendle, candidates for City Council President, chat Thursday, June 27, 2019, in the City Council Chambers in City Hall. The council is considering when to come back to in-person meetings as coronavirus restrictions ease.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
From left, candidates Breean Beggs, Mike Fagan, Phillip Tyler and Cindy Wendle, candidates for City Council President, chat Thursday, June 27, 2019, in the City Council Chambers in City Hall. The council is considering when to come back to in-person meetings as coronavirus restrictions ease. (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Scolding an elected official just doesn’t quite feel the same over Webex.

The Spokane City Council is planning to resume holding its meetings in person for the first time in more than a year, as early as Aug. 2.

The target date aligns with the scheduled reopening of Spokane City Hall.

The City Council discussed future meeting plans during a virtual study session on Thursday.

Members agreed that the council should continue to offer the public the ability to testify remotely, but offered different opinions on whether they should require in-person attendees to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status.

The council could have chosen to hold in-person meetings prior to Gov. Jay Inslee’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions on June 30, but it would have been faced with capacity limits and other restrictions.

“We still had a lot of questions, a lot of steps had to be taken, but now the requirements are fairly minimal,” city attorney Mike Piccolo explained to the council.

Under new state guidance, there are no capacity limits or social distancing requirements for “miscellaneous venues,” which include public meetings of local governments. The state is not requiring local governments to check attendee’s vaccination status, but has the discretion to do so.

Councilman Michael Cathcart noted how onerous and potentially invasive checking the vaccination cards of attendees would be.

But Councilwoman Kate Burke said requiring everyone to wear a mask was the safest option. Noting her personal health issues, Burke said she wouldn’t be comfortable attending meetings if there was no vaccination or mask requirement.

Burke suggested lifting the mask requirement when Spokane reaches a 70% vaccination rate. As of the most recently available data, 53.6% of those who are eligible to get vaccinated in Spokane County have received at least one dose.

Under Inslee’s guidance, however, the council must continue to offer remote call-in access for the public.

Members agreed that remote testimony should continue past the pandemic, and that council members should continue to be able to participate by video conference when necessary.

“I feel like we’re entering the 21st century finally and I think it’s really important that people have different ways they can communicate with us and different ways we can communicate with each other,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.

Offering remote testimony will require technology improvements in City Council chambers, Council President Breean Beggs noted, and might not be available by Aug. 2.

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