Open Public Meetings
By Rick Sorrels
On 23 Mar 2006, the Commissioners discussed whether transmitting E-Mails to each other violated the Open Public Meeting Act. The focus was on what number of Commissioners equaled a quorum to determine whether a “meeting” had occurred. They missed the point.
The Open Public Meeting Act (RCW Chapter 42.30) requires that all “actions be taken openly” and that all “deliberations be conducted openly” so that “the People” “may remain in control over the instruments they have created”. Case law provides that the “purpose of the Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA) is to permit the public to observe all steps in the making of government decisions” (110 Wn App 212).
To comply with OPMA, ALL deliberations and evidence considered by the Commissioners MUST be available for review and inspection by the public. “Secret” evidence which is distributed or communicated between the Commissioners (any number of Commissioners) would violate the law. Great care should be given that ALL evidence considered is handled openly and made available to the public.
Conversely, case law allows unlimited distribution of routine administrative info, like meeting times, places, etc, which does not contain any evidence or affect the substance of the actions to be taken by the Commissioners.
In summary, the “distribution” of E-Mails is not the problem. The problem is the content of the E-Mail. “Evidence” cannot be distributed, discussed, or considered in secret from the public, either by E-Mail, telephone, written papers, or other means. Such acts would deny the Public its right to access and control over its own creation (the CRC) as guaranteed under Washington Law.
The Public has more rights than merely attending and speaking at the Commission’s meetings. The Commission needs to ensure that all “evidence” and deliberations are available for public review and inspection. Posting on the blogsite, handouts at meetings, etc should all meet the requirement. Distributing E-Mails and papers (containing anything of substance) out of view of the public will not.
A number of the Commissioners “talk the talk” about open and transparent government, the public is interested in seeing if they also “walk the walk” themselves.
Rick Sorrels March 2006