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Spokane Valley City Council updates Governance Manual at contentious meeting

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(The Center Square) – The Spokane Valley City Council has repealed and replaced its Governance Manual, reigniting conflicts between new Councilmember Al Merkel, whose conduct toward city staff is being investigated, and his peers.

More than 20 sections of the Governance Manual, a guide for the city council on how to act and conduct official business, were revised at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Merkel said he believes the changes are an attempt to bypass his comments and questions about certain agenda items. His status on the council has been the center of attention for much of the community, and one resident took the stand to express her disappointment with the current situation.

“Due process works, and I’m here to tell you it does,” Mary Pollard told the city council. “These processes are there to protect everyone and level the playing field so it’s all fair for everyone, but the staff can’t stick up for themselves. They can’t come and say that they feel demoralized.”

Last month, the city council hired a third-party investigator to look into complaints that Merkel created a hostile environment with city hall employees. Merkel was asked to limit his presence to weekly council meetings and only interact with City Manager John Hohman or Deputy City Manager Erin Lamb.

In addition, the city council previously raised issues with Merkel posting on social media about a private vote on land acquisition during an executive session, which would have violated state law.

Pollard asked that council members work together.

“We’re to be building bridges,” she said. “Not fragmenting our community.”

Merkel raised many questions pertaining to proposed changes to the Governance Manual, suggesting that certain amendments were directed at his situation with the council and its investigation of him.

One change would allow the council’s presiding officer to rule comments as not pertinent, which does not follow Robert’s Rules, Merkel said.

First published in 1876, “Robert’s Rule of Order” is a widely adopted framework for meetings run on parliamentary procedure. The council is not tied to or obligated to follow Robert’s Rules.

Hohman reminded Merkel that the changes proposed were what the council discussed and agreed on at the prior meeting. Merkel continued to question why the council was not following Robert’s Rules.

Councilmember Rod Higgins then called for a point of order, claiming Merkel was being disruptive.

Merkel again responded by bringing up Robert’s Rules and questioned whether Higgins’s call for order was applicable under said rules or the council’s own Governance Manual.

“I have a lot of comments about this Governance Manual that is very clearly pointed at me in almost every section,” Merkel said, complaining the changes would deny him due process.

Mayor Pam Haley attempted to dismiss Merkel’s comment as irrelevant to the discussion, but Merkel asserted that he couldn’t be interrupted.

“We can cut your mic off,” Haley responded, “or we can go ahead and take a brief break to talk to someone so they can let you know what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”