Concerns had been raised that allowing public viewership could limit the number of people willing to share their experiences
VANCOUVER — A series of listening sessions planned by the city of Vancouver to hear from residents on the topic of racial injustice will no longer be recorded or broadcasted.
The decision was announced Tuesday, following a discussion by members of the Vancouver City Council on Monday.
Councilor Ty Stober said he had been approached by a community member who expressed concerns that the public nature of the listening sessions could make some people less likely to share their stories openly.
That was followed by a letter to the full council from several Washington State University Vancouver professors, saying they believed many such listening sessions broadcast across the country in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd had, in fact, caused a chilling effect.
“I very much applaud everything that we’re doing here to try and reach out,” said Stober, “but also realize that sometimes, when we do things quickly, we forget to make sure and include the necessary people in developing the plans.”
The first two of a series of listening sessions are being held Wednesday from 2-4 p.m., and Thursday from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Up to 30 people per session will be allowed to sign up and speak by visiting https://www.beheardvancouver.org/racialjustice.
Previously, the city had intended to have the sessions streamed live on their Facebook page, along with the local access Clark-Vancouver Television.
Under the existing format, those who have signed up to speak will be able to hear the other speakers, but no one else will be able to listen in.
“We are scheduling a whole series of these,” noted City Manager Eric Holmes. “These first two were the easiest to get established because they were intended to be just general listening sessions for the general public.”
Holmes also noted that the sessions don’t qualify as public meetings, either under the state’s Open Public Meetings act, or the city rules.
The listening sessions will be attended by Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Holmes, Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain and Assistant Chief Jim Mori. The Wednesday session will also include Councilmembers Erik Paulsen and Stober, with Councilors Bart Hansen and Laurie Lebowsky joining on Thursday.
“We are committed to fighting against racism and working toward an equitable and inclusive city for all,” said Holmes in a news release announcing the change. “These listening sessions will serve as a long overdue step toward identifying tangible actions our city government can take to end racism and systemic inequities in our community.”
The city is also recognizing Fri., June 19 as Juneteenth, a celebration of the emancipation of U.S. slaves.
On Saturday, the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP is hosting a virtual forum at 10:30 a.m., which will include Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins, talking about systemic racism and efforts by local law enforcement to address the issues.
The event requires registration to participate.