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Public meetings being held electronically

Local boards and councils have been holding telephonic and internet-based meetings, on orders from the governor, so that business can still get done while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. But there’s a limit on what’s allowed in such meetings.

A Grand Coulee Dam School District board meeting was held on March 23 using Zoom, video conferencing software that allows people to attend a meeting electronically.

A Coulee Area Park & Recreation District meeting is also scheduled over Zoom for today.

The April 13 Regional Board of Mayors meeting, as well as Electric City’s council meeting on April 14, were both held telephonically, with information on how to attend to be posted on the city’s website, or available by calling city hall at 633-1510.

No public comment periods would be held during those meetings, but citizens could listen in.

Other local council and board meetings have also been held telephonically or electronically, while others, such as the April 8 Coulee Dam meeting, have been cancelled altogether.

Coulee Dam has scheduled a special meeting telephonically for April 16 at 2 p.m. to award a bid on a finger printing system.

Gov. Jay Inslee, in a March 24 proclamation, suspended requirements for meetings to be held in person, but required public agencies holding such meetings to make them available to the public electronically.

Inslee made the proclamation exercising his emergency powers granted to the governor under state law (RCW 43.06.220) including his right to prohibit activities he “reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.”

Since the virus “spreads easily from person to person which may result in serious illness or death,” the proclamation reads, “it is necessary to limit person to person contact through social distancing and limiting person to person contact.”

“Transparency in state government and all of its political subdivisions is an important state policy,” the release continues. “There are a plethora of electronic, telephonic and other options that make it possible for the public to attend open public meetings remotely.”

The meetings must also provide “the ability for all persons attending the meeting to hear each other at the same time.”

The actions an agency can take are also limited until public participation segments of the meetings can resume.

“Agencies are further prohibited from taking ‘action,’ the proclamation reads, “unless those matters are necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency, until such time as regular public participation under the Open Public Meetings Act is possible.”


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