Meeting cancellations raise concerns

Fewer agenda items resulted in cancelled council meetings, members continue working



Councilmember Brandon Chapman says many businesses have put good practices in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

BENJAMIN WHITE, Evergreen reporter

Six regularly scheduled Pullman city council meetings have been canceled since August, raising questions of transparency and communication between city officials and residents.

Councilmember Dan Records said the city is required by the Public Meetings Act to advertise meetings where four or more councilmembers are present to discuss city business.

The city has a regular city council meeting scheduled every week to meet the public notice requirements set by the state, Records said. Although there often is not enough on the agenda to justify a regular city council meeting.

Councilmember Brandon Chapman said the council can either have meetings with one item of business or some of the issues can be pushed back to make meetings more valuable if the issues are not time-sensitive.

Staff time is valuable, and it is important to respect their time because they work very hard, he said.

The city councilmembers have discussed having work sessions on Tuesdays when the regular city council meetings are canceled, Records said.

“There has been interest in looking in [work sessions] as a framework, having a business-focused meeting where we’re approving grants and things like that and voting on ordinances and zone changes,” Records said.

Tuesday evening is a time set aside for council meetings and if the city council meeting is canceled it is still important to do something council related with that time, Chapman said.

Having public work sessions could also give residents a chance to voice their concerns in a less formal manner than a regular council meeting, he said. Normally at city council meetings, members of the public are able to address issues during the “new business” portion of the meeting.

Chapman said there is a three-minute time limit for speaking at regular council meetings, and as a resident, it can be intimidating to stand at the podium and speak.

Despite the time limits for community members to speak, they have been able to effectively communicate their ideas and issues, Records said.  The city could be clearer about what is allowed in the new business section of the meeting.

Transparency and communication often come up in city government, Records said. Concerns have been raised about those topics over the last six months.

“Here’s the unfortunate thing about the word transparency, there’s something inherent in it that makes it sound like you’re hiding something,” Chapman said. “I certainly don’t feel like staff are hiding anything, they will absolutely turn things over if there’s a public records request.”

Records said there are limitations for what councilmembers can talk about and often they must redirect residents to other officials to get information.

It is hard for all the departments in the city to provide good communication plans because some of them have few employees, he said.

Hiring a city communications officer would help solve this issue and it is something they are interested in, but the city does not have the funds for that right now, Records said.

“Really the conversation about transparency is, ‘what is it truly that residents are looking for and how can we do a better job getting them that?’” Chapman said. “Again, it’s not like anyone’s hiding anything, it’s just that we have to look at different ways to give [information].”