Council to decide next week on opening City Hall to the public

March 19, 2019

Spokane City Council may vote on a law to open up City Hall to the public without time limits during their meeting next week, a proposal that was deferred for months after the city’s union raised concerns about employee safety.

The ordinance’s sponsor, Councilwoman Kate Burke, said it would give people a place to charge their phone, drink coffee or escape the weather without a set time limit. If it passes next week, people could stay on the first floor during business hours, unless they are disrupting city business.

Signs limiting how long people can spend in City Hall have already been removed, but Burke said she would like to pass a law formalizing the public’s access to the first floor in case the issue comes up again.

Critics, such as councilman Mike Fagan and the union that represents many city employees, said neither staff nor the building is equipped to handle large groups of people who don’t have anywhere to go, especially the homeless.

Burke said the proposal wasn’t meant to turn the building into a warming center.

“It’s not a homeless center or shelter by any means, just a place people can go and feel respected,” she said.

She hoped to bring the issue up for a vote Monday, but the council deferred it along with the rest of the agenda due to the absence of three council member. She said if it isn’t voted on next week, she does not plan to bring up opening City Hall to the public again.

Councilman Mike Fagan called the ordinance ceremonious and said it likely wouldn’t have passed if had gone to a vote Monday.

“It would have been brutal,” he said.

He said if it passes next week, some people could end up spending the entire day at City Hall, which could interfere with city business.

“My fear in it being ceremonious is there may be some who would like to take advantage of it and could very well subject people that come to do business at City Hall, or city staff, to negative things,” Fagan said.

Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, said library employees have already shared concerns about the large number of people in library buildings, which has led to hygiene issues and worries about people using drugs. He said many of the employees working in City Hall said they were against the proposal.

“My heart goes out to the homeless, but people that work there don’t have a choice in being there,” he said.