City plans to limit community forums
Those who often tune into Vancouver City Council’s weekly meetings can likely predict when its community forums will veer off course with diatribes entrenched in conspiracies.
City officials can, too, and are finding a means to reinstate the forum’s intended usefulness.
Staff and the council on Monday workshopped an amendment to the city’s current policy, which would limit community member forums during regular Vancouver City Council meetings. Instead, the body would dedicate at least four evenings a year for these standalone sessions.
This format would function similarly to the city of Vancouver’s pilot program that launched earlier this year in various public locations. During these sessions, attendees circulated between roundtables where they could share questions and concerns with city staff, council members and the mayor.
“That sort of connection seemed very valuable to those that attended,” council member Sarah Fox said. “Having the ability for everyone just to be feel safe and frank and not have the cameras pointing at them was invaluable.”
Currently, community forums are included in the council’s regular consent meeting where the public has three minutes to speak to officials about their agenda. However, it often attracts people who use their time to castigate the council directly rather than share reflections on relevant subjects.
“The open mic situation doesn’t really result in meaningful discussions or meaningful solutions. It’s a very one direction avenue of communication,” council member Kim Harless said.
Although the council provided overwhelming approval to proceed with these meeting amendments, it wasn’t unanimous. Council member Diana Perez recommended adding the standalone community forums to the staff’s existing schedule and format.
“I thought (the pilot program) worked really well in ensuring voices (are heard),” she continued, “but to take away the community form like we have been doing, I am not supportive.”
Stober responded to this point, noting that the six people who registered to speak during the community forum later that evening all lived outside city limits. “That’s what this is. That’s one reason why we’re having the conversation is because we’re struggling to connect with our own residents.”
Those who registered during the community forum shared their discontent regarding the city council’s discussion, many claiming their First Amendment right was under threat. Frequent council attendees Kimberly Elbon of La Center and Laurel Pascal from unincorporated Clark County called it a “communist move” that suppressed their freedom of speech.
This isn’t true, however.
Vancouver council meeting procedures align with Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act, which ensure the public has the ability to engage with government officials — meaning those who wish to provide comments on relevant city projects still have the opportunity to do so during regular city meetings.