Public comment will return to Yakima City Council meetings next month by live video, a move the council unanimously approved Tuesday.
The policy will be in effect for the next regular meeting, Feb. 2. Those who want to comment will need to register by 3 p.m. the day of the meeting and limit their comments to 21∕2 minutes. They will only be allowed to comment on matters listed on that meeting’s agenda. The entire public comment period will be limited to 35 minutes, allowing for up to 14 commenters.
“I’m excited about having public comment back into our meetings, and I look forward to hearing what the public has to say,” Assistant Mayor Holly Cousens said.
The council stopped taking public comment at the onset of the COVID pandemic this spring, as meetings went virtual and City Hall closed to the public. Previous efforts at including public comment during meetings failed to gain traction in May and September. But this time, with the discussion focused on oral comment via video, the motion was met with agreement from every council member who participated.
“I’ve been pro public comment since the beginning,” said Councilmember Soneya Lund, who had pushed the failed September measure. “And I’m glad that we’re getting this resolved.”
With all six participating council members in agreement — Councilmember Jason White hasn’t joined a virtual council meeting in months — most of the discussion centered on the particulars. The idea of allowing group commenters five minutes, as the council had during in-person meetings, was dismissed because it would be logistically difficult via video. Time limits of 2 or 3 minutes were brought up with Councilmember Brad Hill proposing to split the difference, an idea the council ultimately approved. Limiting commenters to matters on the agenda —Lund’s suggestion — drew broad support. But Hill and Mayor Patricia Byers said the council could revisit that in the future.
Hill, who made the formal motion Tuesday to bring back comment, said calls and emails from constituents are frequently a more effective way of communicating. But he recognized the importance of allowing public comment as well.
“It’s getting us back in the direction of normalcy,” Hill said. “I know it’s important to certain constituents and council members.”