Camas not likely to open public comments

Some councilors say allowing two-way discourse could derail public meetings

The majority of Camas City Council members have voiced opposition to the idea of opening two-way conversations with citizens during council workshops and meetings.

“There is substantial research … that strongly advises that meetings of the council are business meetings and (should) not include two-way conversations with the public,” Councilman Greg Anderson said at the Council’s workshop on Monday, March 2. “All of the municipalities around us do not allow for public discourse during public comments.”

Councilwoman Melissa Smith agreed, and said she recalled a time when Clark County Council members opened their public comments up for two-way dialogues with citizens.

“It was a disaster. They couldn’t rein it back in,” Smith said. “It derails the meeting.”

Councilman Don Chaney said he felt council members were better equipped to answer citizens’ questions via email or during other public events.

“For me, the group emails that we get … are where we can give more details and can get back to citizens,” Chaney said Monday, adding that the Council decided a few years ago to expand the public comments period to allow citizens two chances to speak at each workshop and regular meeting.

The subject came up at a Feb. 3 Camas City Council workshop, which included a draft resolution revamping the rules for conduct at council meetings and workshops.

Scott Hogg, the man who led the charge against a November 2019 ballot proposition asking voters to approve up to $78 million to build a public community-aquatics center, and John Ley, another Camas resident who frequently speaks during the Camas Council’s public comment period, spoke at the Feb. 3 Council workshop and asked city leaders to allow for “two-way conversations when it comes to citizens sharing information.”

Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell said Monday thought city officials “need to have some sort of place where we can have those two-way conversations because having that dialogue is important.”

“Feeling heard was something that was important to me to getting to this point,” McDonnell said. “Having a two-way conversation is important, but ultimately this is your guys’ decision … this is your guys’ meeting, and I’ll follow the policies as they’re set forth.”

The Council could vote later this month to approve the proposed meeting rules revisions, which only slightly change the Council’s meeting rules established in 2012.

If approved as drafted now, the new rules would still allow each speaker three minutes for their comments and would ask that speakers direct their comments to the chair of the meeting — the mayor or mayor pro tem in the mayor’s absence.

If speakers need more than three minutes, they would be asked to “setup an appointment with staff, a Council member or the mayor.”

The draft resolution keeps language that states: “Speakers shall not engage Council, staff, (the mayor) or other audience members in conversation, debate or question and answer sessions.”

New language states that the meeting chair should “acknowledge the speaker for their comments and, if appropriate, indicate whether further steps are to be taken regarding the topic(s) presented” and says public officials should be consistent with all speakers.

On Monday, McDonnell and several council members, including Ellen Burton and Bonnie Carter, said they thought it was important to let citizens know there were other opportunities, such as public city council ward meetings and open houses, as well as via email and phone calls with individual officials, to have more in-depth, two-way dialogues.

“It is very important that we have many, many opportunities to have dialogue with all of our constituents,” Burton said Monday. “Ward meetings are coming up … and open houses. And all of us make ourselves available on a daily basis.”

Carter agreed.

“We should make our constituents aware of what comments are for and that we have other opportunities for conversations,” she said.

To read the full draft of the proposed changes to the Council’s meeting rules, visit cityofcamas.us/yourgovernment/minuteagendavideo and click on the “Meeting Details” link for the March 2 council workshop, then on the “REP 20-093” link to find a copy of “Resolution 1252 Adopting Rules for Council Meetings.”

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