Local governments have been listening to you at their pleasure

When I covered the city of Bremerton and watched the council ask for public comment before consent agenda items, I thought it was a good-will gesture. Turns out I was wrong, not that it wasn’t something councils did not have to do, but in thinking councils had to do that any time. They don’t. They can make whatever decision they want and don’t have to bother with the two or three minutes time they give you to testify.

The only exceptions are items dubbed “public hearings,” which happen mostly for land use issues, according to Roger Lubovich, Bremerton city attorney.

House Bill 1197 would change that by adding the following language:

Before taking final action on any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, order, or directive, a governing body of a public agency must allow for public comment regarding that ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, order, or directive. The public comment may be taken at the beginning of a meeting at which final action is scheduled, or at a prior meeting for which notice of the comment period on proposed action has been provided.

The bill in the Washington State Legislature, sponsored by state Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, would require local governments to allow for public comment before making any decision.

The legislation would also require that documents related to the agenda item be made available at least by the time the meeting begins. It was sent to the Government Operations & Elections Committee. No one from the Kitsap Caucus has signed on as a co-sponsor yet.

That local governments do offer time for public comment falls under the categories of smart political moves and good customer service. And more than once I have seen a governing body swayed by something said by a constituent.

UPDATE: I had placed a call to Tim Ford, the state’s Open Government Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s office. He told me, and provided the link to the state law, that council-manager city governments are required to provide public comment opportunities. No other local government is. Again, HB 1197 would change that.

One thought on “Local governments have been listening to you at their pleasure

  1. The governing bodies have to adhere to their own policies on this. Each one could be a different policy application.

    An important lesson I learned long ago from the Bremerton School District, was despite allowing public comment at the start of a meeting (except commentary on action items) and the later allowing comment on only the action items, was that if language in the policy allows, the Board President can still limit or restrict comment on particular items. This is a restrictive tool that is waged when an issue brings in packed house and rising tempers.

    I will never forget some of the Bremerton School Board meetings when the Betty Hyde issues were going down about 6 years ago. A packed board room and the Bremerton PD in the hallway. Fun times. At more than one of these meetings the board president enacted restrictions on what might be considered redundant testimony and in one case restricted any comment at all on Dr. Hyde regarding the performance of her duties as Superintendent.

    It was a trial by some very hot fire for me. From then on if I anticipated speaking before or addressing a publically elected entity, I did my homework on their policy regarding public comments beforehand.

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