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Walla Walla Town Hall series begins Thursday

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Walla Walla City Hall

Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber will address the public Thursday on an array of issues that have come into the spotlight nationally and locally since the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

The 6:30 p.m. virtual town hall meeting is the first in a series of three on local police policies, budget and the controversial tattoo of an officer.

“Just like our community wants, the Walla Walla Police Department wants to make sure a tragedy like Mr. Floyd’s death will not occur here,” says a post on the city’s website, which lists current police practices and procedures.

Plans for the town hall were discussed in a Monday work session of the Walla Walla City Council.

The first session will be a listening event for the general public.

The second session on July 23 will allow for public comment. Those who wish to address the Council and community must sign up by filling out a questionnaire on the city’s web page on Friday.

The third town hall will be Aug. 13, 6:30 p.m. -8:30 p.m. for a discussion with possible action by the Council.

On Monday plans for Spanish-language translation were laid out, as well as other details.

City Clerk Kammy Hill said the first session will have an interpreter, and listeners will choose between listening in Spanish or English. Closed captioning in English will also be offered, Hill said during the session Monday.

The second in the series — July 23 — can include Spanish speakers. Closed captioning will be added for English-speaking members of Council to read.

Hill said the webinar license is up to 500 attendees. The series will also be live-streamed to the city’s Vimeo feed for unlimited viewers.

City Manager Nabiel Shawa will talk about the police department’s funding and budget in a presentation expected to run 15-20 minutes. City Attorney Tim Donaldson will speak afterward regarding the legal issues surrounding employee tattoos, according to the special meeting agenda.

Bieber will then have an hour to present the police department’s current policies, training and community response and will be speaking to the many questions raised like the response to #8CANTWAIT, what the department follows and does not and why, said Mayor Tom Scribner.

The day after the meeting, a questionnaire will be live on the city website for anyone wishing to speak at the July 23 town hall virtual session.

The questionnaire shown at the work session asks those who wish to speak at the second town hall session to describe their testimony’s general nature briefly. They will be asked to state if they feel the Walla Walla Police Department is overfunded, underfunded or funded adequately. They will also be given a choice of three responses to Officer Nat Small’s memorial tattoo from the U.S. Marine Corps with Scout Sniper symbolism also mirrored in the Nazi “SS” double lightning bolts: offensive, does not matter or no opinion.

Last names will be optional on the form because of concerns of retaliation, Hill said.

With a digital clock rolling for three minutes on the screen for each speaker, 60 people will give testimony. Those who will be chosen to speak will be selected through a balanced approach by picking the speakers that would provide a wide range of opinions.

Council discussed taking a percentage of which side of the issue the emails landed on, whether in support of or requesting action, and use that percentage to choose how many people will speak on which side of the various issues.

Council member Myron Huie said he is concerned about the approach of a balance of opinions since the number of emails stating support for the police department, according to his breakdown, has been over 92%. Those that are questioning the practices and funding are about 8%.

“In the forum, they would have equal opportunity to speak. Doesn’t sound like that’s fair representation of what’s come in,” he said.

Scribner asked each Council member if they thought a percentage basis for choosing the speakers was a better option. Five Council members, excluding Council members Susan Nakonieczny and Huie, disagreed and supported a balanced number of people speaking on both sides of the issues.

“What we should be seeking is a diversity of opinion and a range of opinions and a range of viewpoints, and I guess the percentages thing feels counter to that,” Council member Riley Clubb said.

Nakonieczny suggested speakers be prioritized based on being local Walla Walla city residents because they will be discussing local policies, which will be considered in the speaker selection process.

Thursday’s meeting can be viewed on the city’s website, attended by Zoom at ubne.ws/firsttownhall or listened to by calling 253-215-8782 and entering meeting ID 826 1967 8892#.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers the cities of Walla Walla and College Place as well as agriculture and the environment in the Walla Walla Valley. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University and joined the Union-Bulletin's team in October 2019.