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Spokane City Council gets an earful for proposed limiting of public comments

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(The Center Square) – A proposal by the Spokane City Council to revamp its open public forum policy faced criticism from a number of citizens Monday night.

Under current council rules, up to 15 speakers who sign up in advance – both in-person and online – are allowed to voice their views within a 2-minute limit at the beginning of weekly council meetings. Comments are supposed to be respectful and directed to the council president without singling out other council members or city staff, who typically do not respond during that time.

As proposed, the open forum period would instead be restricted to the third meeting of each month but extended to up to 40 speakers. During those particular meetings, the council’s legislative business would be limited to addressing items on a consent agenda and any appointments deemed necessary at the time.

The proposed change, according to city documents, would “increase opportunity for more diversity of speakers, many of them from historically excluded communities” while expediting council business during each month’s three other meetings.

Since mid-October, the council’s open forum sessions have been dominated by roughly 10 to 20 individuals who repeatedly voice support for Palestinians and condemn the council’s Oct. 9 resolution expressing support for the nation of Israel’s right to exist following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists. Many of those speakers have also repeatedly called upon the council to defund or reduce funding to the police department and instead divert more money toward social services and housing for the poor and disadvantaged.

Among those regular speakers are Justice Forral, Zach McGuckin, and Scott Ward, who all criticized the proposed procedural change Monday night.

“It’s a blatant attempt to suppress our movement,” McGuckin told the council, calling the Oct. 9 resolution “racist.”

But another regular speaker, Will Hulings, complained, “All I hear about is Palestine.” Instead, Hulings called on city officials to address “people doing drugs in the open … (and) sleeping on the streets. It’s disgusting.”

Council president Betsy Wilkerson said council members expect to consider revisions to rules and procedures during their Jan. 22 meeting.

The open forum change, if adopted, would be monitored in its new format for effectiveness and is among several procedural revisions being contemplated.

Other proposed changes include the introduction of legislative items, sponsorship by council members of resolutions and ordinances, prohibiting disclosure of privileged attorney-client communications, and conducting annual town hall sessions outside of city hall.

The 39-page “Rules of Procedure” document includes Robert’s Rules of Order and specifies council conduct on a number of topics: obligations of mutual respect and ethical conduct, amendment of council rules, meeting schedules, the agenda process, consideration of ordinances and resolutions, veto power, and more.

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