Citizen Forums are back. At least for now, and lower down on the City Council’s agenda.
At the end of 2017, Tacoma City Council suspended the council’s practice of holding Citizens Forums during the second council meeting of each month. The council is now working with the Center for Dialog and Resolution – at a cost of $25,000 – to develop a replacement way for people to voice their thoughts on city governance. The January forum, therefore, was canceled.
The council had suspended the forums after a series of progressively uncivil forums included profanity, shouts and personal threats against individual councilmembers while addressing the whole council on topics. People have always been able to offer their thoughts on specific topics on that particular meeting’s agenda as well as during specific public hearings.
A council motion on Jan. 30, however, restarts a version of the Citizens Forums, at least for Feb. 13, March 13, April 10 and May 8. The forums, however, will be held after the unfinished business on the regular agendas. The mark on the plus side of the shuffle to the last position on the agenda is that it allows people to generally go home after work and still be at the council chambers by the time the forums would generally start. A minus, however, is that a deep agenda could mean that people wanting their three minutes at the microphone could take their places close to their usual, work-week bedtimes.
“This council still believes that that Citizens Forums are still very much a part of government,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said, while outlining the motion. “Citizens Forums should be an opportunity for anybody to show up and give their public testimony about any issue.”
The council will continue to work with the Center for Dialog and Resolution but will also form a focus group of residents regarding the issue as well as launch an online survey to gather opinions, thoughts and suggestions on what any future incarnation of Citizen Forums will take.
“Citizens Forum have to work for the people who show up,” Woodards said. “We know it’s our job to show up and listen.”
The group’s recommendations and online survey results will be gathered through May in hopes of having council develop a revised format in late spring.
Outgoing Councilmember Lauren Walker Lee first proposed the suspension of the Citizens Forums in November. She then proposed a substitute resolution.