The March 3 meeting of the Pierce County Council turned out to be something of a debate on open government, with two proposed ordinances sponsored by councilmember Pam Roach related to the Citizens’ Forum portion of meetings going down to defeat.

Proposal No. 2020-17, removing the restriction that members of the public be allowed to address the council on matters that do not appear otherwise on that particular meeting agenda, lost by a vote of 5 to 1.  

“My goal here is to, you know, help the people have an opportunity to say things to us,” Roach explained, making a veiled reference to the events of the Dec. 10 meeting of the council in which some members of the public felt they were denied a right to comment on the council’s decision to take part in a lawsuit to uphold the so-called car tabs initiative (I-976) passed by voters in November. “It seems we’ve been restrictive when we don’t need to be.”

“I do believe in our rules we provide an opportunity for our citizens to address us, and I don’t know that we need to have it addressed a second time in Citizens’ Forum when there may be some subjects that citizens want to bring up that were not on the agenda they’re very concerned about,” responded Chair Douglas Richardson.

“People in an open forum, it should still be an open forum,” Roach shot back. “Instead what we’re saying is don’t bother. I think it’s really hard to access this county council.”

Roach concluded by noting council members make in excess of $100,000 a year, adding, “We can stand to listen to our public.”

Joining Richardson in voting down the proposed ordinance were Dave Morell, Jim McCune, Marty Campbell and Connie Ladenburg.

Proposal No. 2020-18, striking the majority rule requirement for council members to engage in dialogue or debate with members of the public speaking during Citizens’ Forum, was voted down 4 to 2.

“The ability to have the dialogue already exists in our rules is what I’m trying to say if the body wants to do that,” Richardson said in explaining his opposition to the proposed ordinance.

“We need to open up government in order for people to participate,” Roach said.

Richardson was joined by Morell, Campbell and Ladenburg in voting no, while McCune voted yes along with Roach.