Sandpoint City Council nixes remote testimony on Zoom

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Sandpoint Mayor Jeremy Grimm announced June 5 that the City Council would no longer accept public testimony via Zoom.

The move is intended to “encourage predominantly local participation” in person, he said, and also avoid incidents such as at the May 15 meeting when two individuals launched into comments that Grimm shut down for being inappropriate and in violation of the city’s policies against threatening and derogatory remarks.

“I’m not dealing with that kind of stuff anymore,” he said at the June 5 meeting.

Grimm added that the city will continue to offer the ability to view meetings remotely, as well as record and post them on YouTube, “however, with limited exceptions we will no longer be accepting public comment from those attending remotely.”

Council President Deb Ruehle pushed back against the new policy, saying that “changing the opportunity for the public to comment on Zoom [without conferring with council] is somewhat inappropriate.”

“Last meeting was just the second time we’ve had to turn the volume off on very inappropriate comments,” she said.

The offending comments at the May 15 meeting were similar to others made at the Nov. 15, 2023 meeting, which all featured disparaging statements about Israel, people of the Jewish faith and others. The statements in November were allowed to proceed for some length before being shut off by I.T., while Grimm silenced the May 15 comments shortly after they began to veer into “derogatory” territory.

One speaker challenged Grimm’s authority to cut off his commentary, stating that he would not use any threats or vulgarity before proceeding to threaten a lawsuit if his “political opinion … involving the state of Israel and Jews” went unheard. He then referred to the mayor as “a punk,” which resulted in his microphone being muted.

“The former speaker was shut off for calling me a punk,” Grimm said at the May 15 meeting.

Ruehle said she understands the pros and cons of regulating public comment, and requested of Grimm “that in future there’s some more in-depth conversation with your council.”

For his part, Grimm countered that “there is the opportunity for residents in our four-square-mile city to attend and also arrange in advance if they have special needs to comment via Zoom.”

What’s more, he added, “many employers are having employees come back to work” in what’s referred to as the “return to work” movement, and other cities have taken similar steps to reorient testimony back to in-person attendance.

Ultimately, though, Grimm returned to the “totally inappropriate” nature of the comments at the May 15 meeting.

“I can’t tolerate that kind of disturbance. I had a hard time paying attention to the rest of the meeting because those comments were disturbing,” he said.

Ruehle argued that “being a representative of the public, that’s part of our job … and it might not feel good.” 

Amelia Boyd, who has served on the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission and ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2023, spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting about the importance other candidates placed on public comment and transparency during their campaigns last year.

“I remember four of you — plus myself — when we were campaigning about getting the voice out of our citizens,” she said, later adding, “Deb is right — you all are the voice of the people.”

She encouraged the council to put the matter up for more consideration at a later meeting, which Grimm said earlier he’d be happy to do.

However, he reiterated, “there is the opportunity to speak on Zoom prearranged.” 

“This is a four-square-mile area. … We will make reasonable accommodations,” he said, adding, “This is strictly to restrict outside comments that are inappropriate in any situation.”

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.