Every so often, those people charged with conducting the public’s business should read the preamble to state of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. Other citizens ought to read it, too.
It states: “The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
We mention this because at least two members of the Olympian Planning Commission – Carole Richmond and Jerry Parker -- don’t seem to understand the meaning of public service.
The nonprofit Washington Coalition for Open Government recently presented its Key Award to planning commission member Judy Bardin for calling attention to a series of secret meetings between other commissioners and developers. But Richmond and Parker criticized WCOG and the award.
Parker went so far as to say the award rewards “destructive behavior.” Really? Advocating for greater transparency in government is “destructive behavior?”
If Parker believes that, and thinks frank discussions on important decisions should occur when the public is not present, then he belongs in a corporate boardroom, not on a public commission. If any commission members spend time contemplating ways to circumvent the Open Public Meetings Act or the Public Records Act, they are not genuine public servants.
The issue here isn’t whether anything untoward took place at the meetings Bardin objected to, and did not attend. But it could have. That’s why elected and appointed officials doing the public’s business should always opt for openness. And those who champion that cause should be applauded, not chastised.
If less than a quorum of commissioners meet with certain developers and discuss certain issues, and later a different set of commissioners also meet with those developers and discuss those same issues, then over time the entire commission has held a secret meeting with the same developers about the same issues. It’s what WCOG calls serial public meetings.
We don’t know if that happened in this case, but to the public it looks suspicious. A commission sensitive to open government would have avoided the appearance of impropriety. It certainly wouldn’t have responded with angry and combative comments.
The WCOG board member who presented the award to Bardin said most violations occur because of officials’ unfamiliarity with the Open Public Meetings Act. All members of the Olympia Planning Commission have completed the training in that law and the Public Records Act, as required in a bill passed this year by the state Legislature.
We hope that training reminds them they do not have “the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”