The April 7 meeting of the Pierce County Council turned into something of a debate on government transparency between Chairman Douglas Richardson and Councilwoman Pam Roach.

With public participation not permitted at council meetings under Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamations due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, people wishing to speak must phone in. In fact, a majority of council members participated in the meeting by phone, including Roach, Marty Campbell, Connie Ladenburg and Derek Young. Only council members Dave Morell, Jim McCune and Richardson attended in person.

Richards and Roach first clashed while the council was deliberating on an ordinance authorizing the start of condemnation proceedings to acquire property for County Road Project 5736 on Canyon Road East, north of 84th Street East to 72nd Street East. The measure passed 7-0.

The point of contention was that the citizens’ forum and public comment had been moved up in the agenda to immediately follow the consent agenda. The change was noted, however, near the end of the council's agenda with the statement: “To immediately follow Section V. Consent Agenda and be combined with the public comment on ordinances and resolutions.”

“I don’t understand what is so hard about letting the public see what we’re doing,” Roach said.

With Richardson ready to move on to vote on the ordinance, Roach chimed in by asking, “Let’s do something about it, shall we?”

A clearly frustrated Richardson responded by saying, “Thank you, Councilwoman Roach.”

Despite the rancorous tone between the two, Richardson and Roach seemed to be in agreement before voting on the ordinance.

“And council member Roach, to your point, I will take public testimony again at the end of the meeting if someone has dialed in, to make sure we didn’t miss anybody,” Richardson said. “And we noted your comments, and we’ll add a section called ‘public comment’ immediately following the consent agenda on future agendas.”

Tension between the two flared up again during consideration of the last voting item of the day, a proposal authorizing the county executive to enter into a one-year contract with The News Tribune for publishing Pierce County legal notices.

Roach vigorously and repeatedly expressed her opinion that county government should do a better job of making legal notices easier for the public to access. That earned a rebuke from Richardson.

“Councilwoman Roach, you’re out of order!” he exclaimed while banging his gavel.

Proposal No. R2020-19 for publishing legal notices passed 7-0.

The council also unanimously passed the collective bargaining agreement with the Pierce County Juvenile Guild. The two-year agreement affects 44 full-time employees and includes a 2.07 percent cost-of-living raise this year and a general wage increase next year equal to 90 percent of the Seattle-Tacoma Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers as reported in July 2020. That includes a floor of 1.75 percent and a ceiling of 3 percent.

Finally, again unanimously, the council passed Proposal No. 2020-41, authorizing the Public Works Department to extend the validity of ferry tickets due to the coronavirus pandemic.