Tension lingers after city’s forum reduction

The Vancouver City Council on Monday voted to limit its community forums, theoretically to improve future public communication.

Policy revisions outline that the city council will dedicate at least four evenings a year to standalone sessions where the public can directly engage with city officials, whether asking questions or sharing concerns. It’s a significant reduction from its previous format, where community forums were incorporated into the council’s regular consent meeting twice a month.

However, council members noted that this system was ineffective because participants would use their designated three minutes to reprimand staff. Although they welcome public critiques, the council said, these comments were often based on subjects unrelated to Vancouver and diverged into conspiracy.

And it will potentially increase the city’s efficacy.

Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober said there will be more space on the council’s agenda with the reduction of community forums, allowing the body to review more items in one evening.

A majority of the body approved amendments to its community forum policy with council members Diana Perez and Bart Hansen opposing the proposal.

But it didn’t pass without a few hiccups in the council’s own process.

City officials and council members spent more than 10 minutes verifying how to pass the motion. Some chuckled, breaking the silence brought on by thorough, complex bureaucratic procedures.

Perez’s disappointment with the outcome was prominent, saturating in the stillness.

“I believe that community forums as we do have deepens democracy and that it builds a stronger community,” Perez said. “We may not like what we hear sometimes but that is our duty and obligation to hear the voices.”

She said those who speak during the forums, regardless of what they are saying, are exercising their First Amendment rights. Instead of limiting these speaking periods, Perez continued, the city should establish boundaries to combat repetitive disruptions rather than “taking away” speaking opportunities. Community members can still provide testimony at each city council meeting when they are requested to act on an item.

Council member Sarah Fox disagreed, emphasizing that the community forum schedule changed – it wasn’t nixed. Introducing the new standalone sessions are the staff’s way of creating boundaries , she said, and is something the public benefits from, too.

“There is an aspect to showing up at meetings that perhaps some folks should be aware of and it’s the mood of the room… if there’s a room full of angry, hostile people, certain people will decide not to show up,” Fox said. “They’ll decide, well, maybe I just don’t feel comfortable in that room.”

To watch the Vancouver City Council meeting, visit CVTV.org.

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker is a politics reporter for The Columbian.

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