Council to look at changes to citizen comments

'Intimidating and threatening' behavior prompts discussion

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? What: The Vancouver City Council will discuss policy updates, including its citizen communications, in a workshop.

? When: 4 p.m. today

? Where: City Hall, 210 E. 13th St.

? FYI: Public comment is not accepted during workshops, but citizens can be heard at the end of the 7 p.m. meeting. The council will also have to vote on any proposed changes in a subsequent meeting.

The Vancouver City Council will consider changes to its citizen communication tonight, but will not vote on any policy shifts until a later date.

? What: The Vancouver City Council will discuss policy updates, including its citizen communications, in a workshop.

? When: 4 p.m. today

? Where: City Hall, 210 E. 13th St.

? FYI: Public comment is not accepted during workshops, but citizens can be heard at the end of the 7 p.m. meeting. The council will also have to vote on any proposed changes in a subsequent meeting.

Following what he calls “threatening and intimidating” behavior by some members of the council audience, Mayor Tim Leavitt has proposed moving weekly public comment to the beginning of the meeting, but restricting speakers to only what is on that night’s agenda.

Under his current proposal, all other comment would be moved to a monthly “mini town hall” meeting held after the regular council meeting. It would be televised by CVTV, a local public affairs channel carried by Comcast. Right now, speakers may speak for three minutes on any subject they choose during citizen communications at the end of each Monday’s meeting.

Opponents, including Councilor Jeanne Stewart and many regular citizen speakers, have said that Leavitt is attempting to silence negative commentary on the Columbia River Crossing. The city does not direct the bistate project, but is a participating agency.

Leavitt and several other councilors, including Jack Burkman and Larry Smith, have said they feel the public process has been hijacked by a select few people.

“The point of me initiating a conversation about making some improvements is what we’re doing right now could be done better for both us and our citizens,” Leavitt said. “People who want to come into council to watch and listen and voice opinions could do so without fear and harassment.”

The council will discuss their ideas during today’s workshop. Any changes would be voted on during a later council meeting, City Attorney Ted Gathe said.

Several Washington cities, including Seattle and Tacoma, limit topics that can be discussed at city council meetings. In Portland, speakers may discuss off-agenda topics, but only once a month.

Leavitt said his proposal follows complaints from several people who said they faced a gauntlet of various comments, stares and other forms of intimidation from those in the audience.

But Josephine Wentzel, spokeswoman for NoTolls.com and frequent council speaker, has denied that. She says neither she nor any of the other council regulars have been threatening in any manner, and had “no idea” what those who complained were talking about.

Leavitt has changed the format of citizen communication before. Shortly after taking office last year, he moved communication from biweekly to every week, and also moved it from the beginning of the meeting to the end. He also established quarterly town halls held at locations around Vancouver.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.