Constituent policy

Lacey set to change public comment policy to comply with new law

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Lacey Town Council’s current comment policy which only allows comments on items not on the agenda. This comments policy is about to change as a result of Absorbed Surrogate House Bill 1329.

Rolf Boon

Lacey City Council learned on Thursday that Absorbed Surrogate Home Bill 1329, which was signed into law and takes effect in Junewill change the way they hear public feedback.

One of the pieces of the legislation reads: “Requires governing bodies to provide an opportunity for public comment at or before any regular meeting at which final action is taken, except in emergency situations.”

Now, the city’s current public comment policy does not allow comments on meeting agenda items.

The information was provided as part of a major legislative update. When Councilman Lenny Greenstein and Mayor Andy Ryder saw the public comment update in the presentation, they asked City Attorney Dave Schneider if Lacey’s policy should change.

“Yeah, it changed that,” Schneider said. “We will be presenting some recommendations to the board and will certainly require public comment on most agenda items at all board meetings. There are some exceptions, like quasi-judicial hearings, but, yes, (the law) has definitely changed that.

City manager Scott Spence said if council makes a decision on an agenda item, “we should have an item for public comment”.

In 2019, when the city was proposing new initiatives to tackle homelessness, public comment reached a fever pitch and some residents became frustrated with the council’s longstanding policy of not allowing public comment on items on the agenda.

Washington Coalition for Open Government Board Chairman Toby Nixon said the city’s commenting policy could violate the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

“You can only address the time, place and manner (of public comment),” he said. “You can’t restrict speech based on content.”

Ryder said repeatedly Thursday that while comments are not allowed on agenda items, there have been times when the city has made an exception. Council members Carolyn Cox, Michael Steadman and Greenstein all expressed support for the comment policy change in 2019.

“I don’t like this approach,” Greenstein said of limiting comments to things that aren’t on the agenda. “I want to hear from people, because for me that’s a big part of our role. I’m a big believer in what people have to say.

This story was originally published April 15, 2022 5:45 a.m.

Rolf has worked for The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the town of Lacey and business for the newspaper. Rolf graduated from Evergreen State College in 1990.