An open letter to City Council

SUBJECT: Follow up on my testimony on Monday’s (11/13) City Council Meeting

Dear Council President and Council Members:

I would like to share with you my thoughts on my experience giving my public comments at the City Council meeting on Nov. 13. This might help you think of the public comments portion of the City Council meeting from a different perspective, and perhaps you will consider what proper decorum city residents should be able to expect from our City Council members.

To be frank, I was disappointed by the Council Members’ attitudes during my 3-minute testimony. As a resident of Spokane, I, along with others I work with, take our civic responsibilities seriously. My 3-minute testimony, though may not be perfectly delivered, is built on years of research and collaboration with community coalition members and city staff. For some council members to assume that I spoke from a place of ignorance is extremely disrespectful – and unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to publicly respond and show what preparation I did and what information I had reviewed.

Prior to the drafting of the Spokesman Op-Ed and my testimony at the City Council meeting on Nov. 13, we met with OCREI Director Jerrall Hayes to discuss the 2024 budget and the status of the 2 positions that he has been trying to fill. We worked with Alex Gibillisco on the language access ordinance and shared with him our concerns about the actual implementation of the ordinance. We did research on the job responsibilities of Language Access Coordinator in other cities. We looked at the type of ongoing employee training and compliant work that is necessary on a continuous basis. In fact, I myself and others testified at the City Council meeting when the ordinance was voted on and requested that a full-time language access coordinator to be hired under OCREI – the use of the word “designate“ regarding the language access coordinator in the ordinance suggested to us that there might be an erroneously assumption that somehow a current city employee already has the expertise and skillset for them to be ‘designated” as the language access coordinator. We reviewed the Mayor’s preliminary budget and proposed budget as soon as they were released. I understand that having only a Ph.D in sociology doesn’t make me a budget expert, and that’s why we asked for Matt Boston’s help to educate myself and others.

Even with the inclusion of 3 FTE positions (listed on p.323 of the proposed 2024 budget – yes I did check that portion of the proposed budget before my testimony on Monday), the budget for OCREI in 2024 is still 30% below the 2023 budget (screen shots from p. 130 and p. 132 of the proposed 2024 budget). It is clear that there is no funding allotted for a full-time language access coordinator as we demanded. (In the community proposal we co-developed with the City of Spokane Human Rights Commission, we asked for a total of 6 full-time positions for OCREI.) And, it seems that the $75,000 dollars of operating budget that we advocated for through past City Council President Beggs has been taken away.


Aside from the work we have done on the 2024 proposed city budget, we have engaged with many of the past and current City Council in the past few years in my role as the Co-Chair of the GSP Office of Civil Rights, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup. The OCREI Workgroup is made up of representatives from a wide spectrum community organizations. We have worked closely with the Spokane Human Rights Commission to develop our community proposal for OCREI and to advocate for the funding of the office. We work with City Council staff Alex Gibilisco closely. We have asked Matt Boston twice to give us a presentation so that we can understand the City budget and the budget approval process. In fact, we have suggested to Alex and Matt that City Council should organize a City Budget 101 session that is open to the public as a civic education service.

You may disagree with what we are asking for in the 2024 budget, but our request did come from our ongoing research and discussions with our community partners. Besides the city budget, I also look forward to having direct conversations with the continuing council members on what you can do to make city residents feel respected and belong at a city council meeting.

Respectfully yours,

Pui-Yan Lam
GSP OCREI Workgroup