Following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last week that some COVID-19 safety measures will remain in place after the state’s economy fully reopens June 30 or earlier, officials in the cities of Mountlake Terrace and Brier are uncertain about when their city halls and government meetings will also reopen to the public.
According to the governor’s announcement, while industries can mostly return to their usual operations, the current applicable masking guidelines will still be required, capacity restrictions will remain for large indoor event venues that hold 10,000 people or more and there will also be certain mitigation procedures in schools and universities.
Both the cities of Mountlake Terrace and Brier are still in the process of determining a specific date for fully reopening municipal buildings and public meetings to in-person attendance.
“For a couple of reasons, at this point, we have not identified a date to return to in-person services at city hall,” Mountlake Terrace City Manager Scott Hugill said in an email June 8. “State guidelines call for social distancing, which can be difficult with in-person, over-the-counter service.” In addition, Hugill noted that with the city’s impending move to the new Civic Campus, many items related to in-person service (e.g., forms and applications) are packed in preparation of the move.
“We’re waiting for state guidelines, any updates on those, before we reopen City Hall to public,” he said, adding that while the city hopes to receive such clarification sooner, “most likely we’re waiting until the end of the month to see where we are.”
Hugill added, “Like a lot of the community, we’re looking forward to reaching the 70% public vaccination mark, which the state has identified as the point we will be able to re-open with fewer requirements to monitor (e.g., no limits on the number of attendees at council meetings).”
Mountlake Terrace city staff have also discussed the possibility of continuing to use Zoom for participation in public meetings along with in-person attendance when that resumes, but any prospective hybrid model wouldn’t be implemented until City Hall can fill to capacity. That’s to avoid potentially turning people away at the door — under current capacity limits, who would then as a result miss some of the proceedings because they lack mobile access to Zoom.
“It’s to be determined,” Hugill said, adding the city council hasn’t examined the idea. “Talking with other cities we’ve seen an increase in community participation in meetings by having them virtually, and so we want to have a discussion about how can we continue that level of participation from the community that has been easier in the virtual world” for many, he said.
“I think we need to have that discussion about how we can merge the two,” Hugill said, explaining that the city needs to figure out how people who aren’t able to attend meetings in-person have another way to engage and provide public comment besides just sending an email.
Brier City Clerk Paula Swisher said by email June 10 that setting a reopening date “is still a moving target for us. We do not have a specific date yet because our building is so much smaller than other city halls.” That smaller size, Swisher added, means that it will be more difficult for the City of Brier “to meet guidelines if the Governor leaves many restrictions.”
Currently the public can gain access to Brier City Hall by appointment, although “when people come to the door and ring our bell, we go out to see if it is something we can handle easily without an appointment and allow them access at that time,” Swisher said.
The City of Brier plans to continue using Zoom for public meetings until it can accommodate a full capacity of 49 people at the city council’s chambers, she said. “At 50% (capacity) we are down to 24 (attendees) and just (the) minimum of council, mayor and staffing, we will use up 10-plus of those spots,” she said, adding that current limits would also “require that we are staffed to monitor compliance.”
Swisher said that city does not currently have the capability to host meetings using a hybrid of both online and in-person meetings. Once in-person meetings resume, “we will request that masks be worn by the public for the safety of our staff,” she said.
— By Nathan Blackwell