Spokane city council still undecided on future meeting format as Washington's reopening looms

Spokane city council still undecided on future meeting format as Washington’s reopening looms

Although Washington state is slated for a full reopening on June 30, the format of future Spokane City Council meetings remains uncertain.

It’s unclear if and when the City Council will welcome guests in-person to City Council chambers in City Hall, even though several council members have expressed willingness – even eagerness – to get back to normal.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a June 30 reopening date, but he could opt to maintain some or all of the current restrictions on government meetings.

If he does not, the council would be subject to the Open Public Meetings Act and have to offer an in-person meeting place, even if one or several council members choose to participate remotely.

Currently, the City Council could opt to have in-person meetings, but it would be forced to cancel the meeting if it reached the council chambers’ 50% occupancy limit. Rather than try to thread that needle, the council has opted to simply keep its meetings entirely virtual.

Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo told the City Council that navigating the restrictions has been a “challenge,” and not just in Spokane.

“We’re all struggling with the same issues, trying to find a simple, clear way forward, and it’s just not there yet,” Piccolo said at a City Council retreat on Tuesday.

If full in-person attendance is allowed after June 30, City Council members expressed a desire to maintain some virtual option, such as through WebEx.

Council members have long been able to participate remotely, but via a telephonic system.

“The WebEx virtual model is so much better than the telephonic system that was there,” Councilman Michael Cathcart said.

The council will have to decide whether it should allow the public to continue to call in and testify on legislation remotely after COVID-19 restrictions end.

Members will also have to choose whether to continue to televise weekly committee meetings. Prior to the pandemic, they had been held in a separate room and not recorded on camera, but have been televised – via a WebEx stream – during COVID-19 restrictions.

The briefing center where the committees meet offers an intimate space preferred by several council members, but it is not currently equipped for cameras.

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