Community Government

City Council temporarily halts public comment via Zoom

Posted on December 13th, 2023 By:

Beginning in January, public comments will no longer be accepted through Zoom at Gig Harbor City Council meetings. They will have to be submitted in writing or in person.

At its last meeting of 2023 on Monday, the council voted 5-1 to approve a surprise motion made by Councilmember Mary Barber establishing the new policy.

Barber said she made the motion reluctantly as a result of reports that council meetings in other Pierce County towns had been subjected to racist, antisemitic, phoned-in comments. She added that she hoped that city staff would act quickly to create new public comment guidelines.

Councilmember Jeni Woock cast the sole vote against the ordinance.

“I voted ‘nay’ because I think public comment is so vital and so important. It tells us how our citizens feel about things,” Woock said. “I don’t support people spewing hate or antisemitic comments, but we have to listen to our citizens and, in turn, our citizens have to behave with decorum and civility.”

On Wednesday, the city issued a public notice further explaining the new policy:

“While council strongly recognizes public comment as a valuable forum for civic engagement and encourages residents to voice their opinions and concerns, it must occur in a safe environment. City staff will provide council with policy alternatives for its consideration to ensure that public comment periods are compliant with applicable laws and remain a safe and welcoming space for our residents.

“Until this is resolved, all comments during future meetings will need to be made in-person or submitted to council in writing in advance of the meeting by emailing [email protected] or handed out at the meeting. Written comments will be distributed to all city councilmembers and they will consider and weigh the testimony provided. An exception will be made to allow Zoom comments during legally required public hearings.”

Creative Endeavor grants

During the meeting’s public comment period for non-agenda items, more than a dozen people asked the council to restore funding for next year’s creative endeavor grants. The grants are small stipends awarded by the city’s arts commission in support of creative activities provided by local arts organizations such as Peninsula Youth Orchestra, Hands on Art and the open studio tour.

At a November study session, the council had recommended putting the grants on hold for 2024 because of the city’s current financial difficulties. At that meeting, the council also recommended eliminating funds for a city-sponsored Fourth of July event, while supporting funding for a police recruitment video and purchase of security cameras for Gig Harbor Civic Center.

Budget modifications approved

At Monday’s meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve the changes to the 2023-24 budget proposed by Finance Director Dave Rodenbach.

The council also approved a contract with the state Department of Enterprise Services (DES) and the energy services company MacDonald Miller to develop concepts and prices for replacing the civic center’s HVAC system. The system was installed in 2002 when the 35,000-square foot facility was built and no longer works properly. The city has requested funds from the state budget to pay for most of the replacement costs, estimated to be $2.2 million.

Lodging tax grants approved

As part of the consent agenda, the council approved lodging tax funding for the following projects: Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team — $15,000 for the Paddlers Cup and Narrows Challenge; $20,000 for the Gig Harbor Film Festival; $2,000 for Kiwanis Club of Gig Harbor‘s Veterans Day celebration; $2,000 for the Rattle Dem Bones bicycle event presented by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation; $5,000 for Peninsula Art League’s Summer Art Festival; $20,000 for Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation’s prayer breakfast and Race for a Soldier; $100,000 for Downtown Waterfront Association operations; $20,000 for Gig Harbor BoatShop operations; $70,000 for Harbor History Museum operations; and $30,000 for Harbor WildWatch operations.

Upcoming meetings

The council will hold a virtual study session Thursday at 3 p.m. The meeting can be accessed via zoom or by calling (253) 215-8782 and entering Meeting ID 932 1605 6382.

The next regular council meeting will take place Monday, Jan. 8.