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Public meetings to continue remotely

Public meetings, including those of city councils, school boards, and various districts, will need to continue to be held telephonically, a requirement that might lead to an expanded means of public participation in at least one local city.

Gov. Jay Inslee extended proclamations related to COVID-19 restrictions Friday, including proclamations related to public meetings forbidding them from being held in person.

"The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and its progression in Washington State continues to threaten the life and health of our people as well as the economy of Washington State, and remains a public disaster affecting life, health, property or the public peace," proclamation 20-28.4 reads, extending restrictions through June 17 that had been set to expire on May 31.

City councils, school districts, port districts and all other state agencies, normally required to hold meetings in public, are still prohibited from in-person meetings under the extension.

They must instead provide "option(s) for the public to attend the proceedings through, at minimum, telephonic access, and may also include other electronic, internet or other means of remote access, and ... the ability for all persons attending the meeting to hear each other at the same time."

Locally, meetings held by the Grand Coulee Dam School District, city councils, and local districts have been held via Zoom, with telephone numbers available to the public to call to "attend," or cancelled altogether.

Grand Coulee Mayor Paul Townsend said Tuesday that the restrictions are frustrating and admitted that a special city council meeting May 28 was supposed to have been held via Zoom but instead was held in person when some people couldn't gain access.

"Everybody just showed up and it was like, 'Oh, let's just do this,'" he said of the special meeting called to authorize his signature on a $3.5 million police services contract with the federal government. "It didn't go the way it was supposed to."

The Zoom option is one Townsend wants to consider keeping around for the public even after the current emergency is over and the council is regularly meeting in person.

"How many more people might be interested ... if they could participate from the comfort of their homes," he said.


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