Yakima City Council in possible violation of the Open Public Meetings Act
In response to public outcry, Council agrees to schedule vote to allow inclusive policing ordinance to be considered.
Immigrant Justice, Systems Reform, Worker Justice – POLICY REFORM
In 2017, Columbia Legal Services were contacted by representatives of the Latina/o community in Yakima to inform us of the irregular activity taken by the Yakima City Council in their deliberation of a city ordinance which was designed to protect immigrants and people of color in the City of Yakima from potential overreach and abuses by local enforcement authorities. Yakima resident and community leader, Paula Zambrano spearheaded this demand by stating, “We need to have a safe community where all residents have confidence they can contact the police for help. That will make Yakima a more secure community for everyone now and into the future.”
After numerous city council meetings where the public demonstrated support for this proposal, the city council voted to terminate its consideration in apparent violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, because no prior public notice was given of the vote and four council members appeared to have pre-arranged the surprise vote while one of the sponsoring and Latina members of council had a planned absence. Columbia Legal Services advocates responded to the communities’ call and demanded the city follow state law. After being served with a draft Complaint, the Yakima City Council voted to undue that controversial decision and opened up the issue for further debate and consideration. Even though the legislation did not ultimately pass, community advocates and Latina council members were vindicated by publicly holding local government responsible.
Yakima Residents Applaud City Council for Agreeing to Revisit Public Safety Ordinance
The Yakima City Council decided today to schedule a vote to decide whether they should rescind the controversial April 4, 2017 vote that ended consideration of an inclusive policing ordinance. Today’s action was in response to a legal challenge that the Council’s April 4th vote violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) because no prior public notice was given and four councilmembers appeared to have pre-arranged the surprise vote.
The Council announced that they will consider whether to proceed with the inclusive policing ordinance at the July 11 Council meeting. If the Council agrees to proceed, they will also consider whether to re-start the original 90-day period to allow development of the ordinance.
“We thank the City Council for recognizing that the public’s business needs to happen in the open and for agreeing to have this vote again,” said Yakima resident Paula Zambrano. “We need to have a safe community where all residents have confidence they can contact the police for help. That will make Yakima a more secure community for everyone now and into the future.” The inclusive policing ordinance aims to ensure local law enforcement focuses on effective community policing techniques and does not unlawfully stray into enforcement of federal immigration laws.
In an environment where the Trump administration has sought assistance from local law enforcement to target immigrants, many Yakima residents are living in fear and have asked their representatives on the City Council to take steps to maintain trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. Council Members Dulce Gutiérrez and Carmen Méndez responded to those concerns and proposed to work with residents, City staff, and local law enforcement to develop an inclusive policing ordinance.
At a meeting on March 7, 2017, the City Council voted to allow a 90-day period to develop such a proposal. However, on April 4, four Council Members – Kathy Coffey, Bill Lover, Maureen Adkison, and Holly Cousens – decided to short-circuit the process and voted, without public notice, to terminate all further discussion of the ordinance. The vote was taken during the “other business” portion of the April 4 meeting.
The next day, Columbia Legal Services sent a letter to the City Council alleging the Council’s actions violated the OPMA. At the next scheduled meeting, Mayor Coffey agreed the Council should no longer vote on any business under the “other business” portion of the agenda and admitted that had not been the Council’s standard policy. Today’s commitment to schedule the vote with notice to the community is an important step to correct the process on this important public safety issue.
“Ever since Yakima underwent redistricting, the City has witnessed a welcome boost in civic engagement from a newly-energized constituency,” said Bernardo Cruz, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services. “We applaud the Yakima City Council for recognizing that open, public discussion is an essential ingredient for a functioning democracy and ensuring public trust.”