Guest column: A call for open government and transparency

641
40

By Ken Reidy

The City of Edmonds’ organizational chart clearly establishes that the Mayor, Municipal Court and City Council report directly to the citizens of Edmonds. This is a very important concept to fully comprehend. I believe it critical to the proper execution of our representative democracy, known as a republic.

The citizens of Edmonds, in delegating authority to the Mayor, Municipal Court and City Council, do not give our public servants the right to decide what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know.

The current Washington State Open Public Meetings Act, adopted in 1971, contains the following preamble:

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. RCW 42.30.010.

The Washington Supreme Court has referred to this preamble as one of the strongest statements of legislative policy contained in any state statute. Cathcart v. Andersen, 85 Wn.2d 102, 107, 530 P.2d 313 (1975). In 1992, the Legislature added this same language to the public records law. RCW 42.17.251 (recodified as RCW 42.56.030, eff. 7/1/06).

So, when I make a strong statement like “The citizens of Edmonds . . . do not give our public servants the right to decide what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know,” I am not emotionally advocating a theory. Rather, I am representing a law of the state of Washington.

Elected officials often convene behind closed doors with their legal advisors in what is known as an executive session. Executive sessions can be held to discuss the acquisition of real estate and to review negotiations related to publicly bid contracts. Executive sessions can be held to evaluate the qualifications of an applicant for public employment and to discuss pending litigation. Per RCW 42.30.110, there are 14 reasons to conduct an executive session. The city of Edmonds has scheduled an executive session for this evening “to receive and evaluate a complaint or charges brought against a public officer or employee,” and potential litigation.

I am of the strong opinion that, in many instances, state of Washington law requires the eventual release of executive session meeting minutes to the citizens. For example, after real estate has been purchased and after publically bid contracts are finalized, the citizens of Edmonds deserve to know what was discussed behind closed doors in an executive session. Another example is after pending litigation has been settled and/or all appeal rights related to the litigation have been exhausted. The citizens of Edmonds 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.

Many candidates for office are campaigning that they support open government and transparency. I challenge the candidates for elected office to make a true high level commitment supporting open government and transparency. The commitment I am requesting is as follows:

If elected, I will support the keeping of detailed minutes for all executive sessions. I will closely review the 14 reasons to conduct executive sessions that are documented in RCW 42.30.110. I will determine which of the fourteen reasons do not require permanent confidentiality. Once those reasons are identified, I will work with my fellow elected officials to clearly establish the point in time the related executive session meeting minutes will be made available to the citizens of Edmonds.

Let’s make the city of Edmonds the beacon for open government and transparency in the state of Washington. Imagine the increase in the citizens’ trust of our elected officials if Edmonds were to do so. The citizens’ confidence that high ethical standards are adhered to during executive sessions would greatly increase. The citizens’ confidence that laws are followed and applied equally to all citizens would grow.

The time has come for Edmonds to assert itself as a leader. A great way to do so is to take bold action supporting open government and transparency.

Ken Reidy is a 21-year resident of Edmonds and an advocate of a citizen’s right to have an open government.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Respectfully, how would you balance attorney-client privilege or the privacy of employees with the recording of Executive Committee meetings?

  2. Hi Priya,

    The key is reviewing the 14 reasons to conduct executive sessions that are documented in RCW 42.30.110. This must be done first to determine which of the 14 reasons do not require “permanent confidentiality”.

    In the state of Washington, the citizens have legal rights that warrant the waiver of the Attorney-client privilege in certain circumstances. An example would be for a situation that is fully resolved which did not involve employees and the employee’s rights to privacy, such as the purchase of real estate by the City.

    The Elected Officials of Edmonds, i.e. the “client” , own the “privilege” and they have the right to waive it. I believe the Elected Officials of Edmonds would well serve the Citizens by promptly releasing Executive Session Meeting Minutes related to issues resolved long ago that no longer require confidentiality.

  3. Priya, I missed the “recording” part of your question. I am not advocating video or audio “recording”, but rather the taking of detailed meeting minutes. When the related executive session relates to an item that requires “permanent confidentiality” such as employee privacy, such detailed meeting minutes could be redacted.

  4. Thanks, Ken. I know you are nothing but thorough. I’ll have a read through the RCW when I have time. I don’t think I agree with you regarding who owns the privilege. Lawyers represent the mayor or the council, that is who owns the privilege. At least, that is what I think.

  5. I think we agree Priya. The elected officials in the executive session with the City Attorney, usually the Mayor and Council, own the privilege and can waive it.

    Priya, if you have time, I’d love to know your thoughts related to non employee related litigation after it has been settled and/or all appeal rights related to the litigation have been exhausted.

  6. Thank you Ray. I think the next step will be to formally request a response from all candidates for office to my request for the following:

    The commitment I am requesting is as follows:

    If elected, I will support the keeping of detailed minutes for all executive sessions. I will closely review the 14 reasons to conduct executive sessions that are documented in RCW 42.30.110. I will determine which of the fourteen reasons do not require permanent confidentiality. Once those reasons are identified, I will work with my fellow elected officials to clearly establish the point in time the related executive session meeting minutes will be made available to the citizens of Edmonds.

    I think the candidates response to this request will provide voters with a more accurate picture of each candidate’s true commitment to Open Government and Transparency.

    I think I will ask ACE or another group if they want to administrate this request for a response from each candidate. The questions asked at the Candidates Forum Monday night were excellent and this would be a nice follow up to the Forum.

  7. @Ken, Because I litigate, I’d rather not post my legal theories on line allowing someone to use my words against me. Especially something as sensitive as attorney-client privilege. However, I am always happy to join you for a cup of coffee to discuss.

  8. That would be great Priya. If you have time, I’d greatly value your thoughts and insight related to this issue. Contact me anytime. I truly believe the City has an opportunity to make a stand for open government that would benefit all.

  9. Bravo and thank you Ken for your thoughtful, insightful and thoroughly researched essay on open government and transparency. Edmonds is at an important crossroad in its history. It can keep on being a “benevolent dictatorship” as I call it or it can become a model city where the leadership promotes transparency and where the people’s money is accounted for in a thoroughly open way. As i read some of the comments from so called expert businessmen I am struck that no one brings up that a government is not run like a business which always shrouds itself on necessary secrecy and board room decisions to protect its products and its worth from competitors. Government in this country is by the people and for the people. This concept seems to be forgotten in Edmonds.

  10. Thanks for your encouragement Ron and Betty.

    Perhaps it would help to look at three of the fourteen reasons to hold an executive session to discuss whether these three reasons require Permanent Confidentiality. Please see (b), (c) and (d) below:

    RCW 42.30.110

    (1) Nothing contained in this chapter may be construed to prevent a governing body from holding an executive session during a regular or special meeting:

    (b) To consider the selection of a site or the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price;

    (c) To consider the minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale or lease when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of decreased price. However, final action selling or leasing public property shall be taken in a meeting open to the public;

    (d) To review negotiations on the performance of publicly bid contracts when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased costs;

    After the City has purchased, leased, sold or leased out real estate and the transactions are finalized and closed, there are no longer risks that the related prices will be increase or decrease if the citizens have knowledge of the pending transactions. There is a clear point in time when the related transaction is no longer pending.

    After negotiations on the performance of a publicly bid contract are completely finished, there are no longer risks of increased costs if the citizens have knowledge of the negotiations. There is a point in time where the negotiations are finished.

    My simple belief is that these three reasons for executive sessions are for Temporary Situations which do not require Permanent Confidentiality. At the end of the Temporary Situation, the citizens have a right to know what was discussed in the related executive sessions.

    I believe there are other Temporary Situations among the fourteen reasons to hold an executive session. I would appreciate the opportunity to sit on a committee with fellow citizens to help identify these Temporary Situations.

    Edmonds has a fantastic opportunity to be a leader and proponent of Open Government and Transparency. I strongly encourage our public servants to take a stand.

  11. Ken,

    I apologize for my delayed response to your well researched and well thought out editorial. I too want Edmonds to become a model of Open Government and transparency. As you have requested, I agree to to commit to the following:

    If elected, I will support the keeping of detailed minutes for all executive sessions. I will closely review the 14 reasons to conduct executive sessions that are documented in RCW 42.30.110. I will determine which of the fourteen reasons do not require permanent confidentiality. Once those reasons are identified, I will work with my fellow elected officials to clearly establish the point in time the related executive session meeting minutes will be made available to the citizens of Edmonds.

    I also support your idea of a citizen committee to help identify Temporary Situations. This would support collaboration with citizens which is necessary in an open government process.

    I encourage all candidates for public office, and all seated council members who are not up for re-election, to make the same commitment.

  12. Ken,

    Excessive use of executive sessions undermines trust and discourages citizen involvement. In many cases they can be appropriate, especially in the area of certain personnel issues. However, in the hands of some leaders, executive sessions can be abused. One of the most blatant cases of abuse I have seen involved the Old Woodway Elementary School property in Southwest Edmonds. This property was dear to the neighborhood and had been used for soccer, baseball and dog walking for 35-plus years. The City Council had voted unanimously to purchase the property; the mayor’s job was to negotiate the purchase for the City. After nine months of executive sessions between the mayor and the school district we suddenly learned that there was “no deal” and that the City would not be purchasing ANY of the property for a public park; it would be going on the market within two months. Had the citizens not quickly organized with the help of Lora Petso and her husband Colin, all the property that is now Hickman Park would have been paved over and covered with large houses. Had the public been allowed to know the gist of those executive sessions we might not have suspected that the mayor had no intention of carrying out the Council’s mandate in the first place.

  13. The citizens of Edmonds . . . do not give our public servants the right to decide what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know,

    If the SAO issues the City a Management Letter or an Adverse Findings Report . . .I believe Citizens are entitled under the law to have access to both.

    I imagine there are multiple reasons the City desires a Management Letter over an AFR. If a Management Letter is issued, I hope the City posts it on the City’s website promptly so we are aware of its contents.

    This would be another opportunity for the City to show it truly supports Open Government and Transparency.

  14. Cliff:

    I suggest that you go back and read the minutes of the 2006 council meetings related to the purchase of the Old Woodway Elementary School property, as some of your comments are incorrect.

    The council discussed this issue in open sessions many times with the goal of purchasing all 11 acres .The city first purchased 5 1/2 acres while it was working on alternatives for purchasing the other 5 1/2 acres. This process was a unanimous decision of city council. This action took no effort by Lora Petso or any other citizens.

    The council ultimately found that the remaining 5 1/2 acres could not be funded by the city in the time frame required by the Edmonds School District, so the opportunity died. Nevertheless Ms. Petso persisted to lead a failed effort to have the city purchase land they didn’t have the money to buy.

    All of the executive sessions were held because the matters discussed were not for public discussion. The city attorney was not alone in assuring what the council did was appropriate. Deanna Dawson, an attorney, was Council President at that time and she always insisted that all council actions be totally above board.

  15. When you read the RCW 42.30.110 (Executive Sessions), you’ll see that there are other reasons besides acquiring/selling real estate or other property for holding these sessions. Also, item (2) of this section states that the presiding officer (chair of council? or does mayor “preside” at council meetings in Edmonds? I think I remember knowing the Mayor presides, in Edmonds) shall publicly announce purpose for excluding public before session takes place.

    Therefore, not only is it a good idea for each candidate to state their commitment to becoming very familiar with reasons for holding closed sessions, it seems the council chair/mayor must be publicly stating reason for holding the session before the session ever takes place.

    I very much appreciate the fact that Joan Bloom is leading the way by commiting to reading this section of the RCW and abiding by its contents! If all became familiar, would go a long way toward the stewardship we want & need right now.

  16. Diane Buckshnis has contacted me and commited to support my call for increased Open Government and Transparency.

    As Sue indicated . . . “Before convening in executive session, the presiding officer of a governing body shall publicly announce the purpose for excluding the public from the meeting place. . . ”

    The emphasis is on publicly announcing the purpose. The mayor announcing in council chambers a very generic purpose, such as “pending litigation” is a weak attempt at meeting the requirement to publicly announce the purpose, in my opinion.

    I believe a more detailed purpose should be announced. I also think the pending litigation reason is used far too often, including times when no litigation has been threatened or filed. I believe this would be easy to prove if Executive session minutes were not consistently redacted.

  17. Ron,
    In case anyone read your misleading response to my comment, let me point out that the City bought the Old Woodway Edmonds School property AGAINST your wishes and those of the mayor. Were it not for Lora Petso, my wife Heather Marks and other in the ‘hood, the land for a badly needed park would have gone to real estate developers. However, let’s not clog the blog and detract from the important discussion of transparency in government. Perhaps you and I can meet together and discuss this over a cup of Maalox, maybe in the beautiful picnic shelter at Hickman Park.

  18. Cliff:

    You continue to be incorrect. Below are excerpts from the relevant council meetings.

    Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes
    March 21, 2006
    Page 2

    COUNCIL PRESIDENT DAWSON MOVED, SECONDED BY COUNCILMEMBER ORVIS,
    THAT THE CITY, PURSUANT TO DISCUSSIONS HELD IN EXECUTIVE SESSION, MAKE AN
    OFFER TO PURCHASE ALL 11 ACRES OF THE OLD WOODWAY ELEMENTARY SITE FOR
    AN AMOUNT AGREED TO IN EXECUTIVE SESSION WHICH IS SUBSTANTIALLY IN
    EXCESS OF THE APPRAISAL PRICE AND GREATER THAN THE AMOUNT PREVIOUSLY
    OFFERED BY THE CITY.
    MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.

    Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes
    March 25, 2006
    Page 1

    COUNCIL PRESIDENT DAWSON MOVED, SECONDED BY COUNCILMEMBER WAMBOLT,
    TO AUTHORIZE THE CITY TO NEGOTIATE WITH THE SCHOOL DISTRICT TO MAKE AN
    OFFER TO PURCHASE 5.5 ACRES AT THIS TIME OF THE OLD WOODWAY ELEMENTARY
    SCHOOL, AND WITH A REQUEST TO THE SCHOOL DISTRICT TO GIVE THE CITY UNTIL
    THE END OF THIS YEAR TO MAKE AN OFFER TO PURCHASE THE ADDITIONAL 5.5
    ACRES PURSUANT TO COMING UP WITH ADDITIONAL FUNDING OPTIONS.
    MOTION CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.

    Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes
    May 30, 2006
    Page 7

    COUNCILMEMBER PLUNKETT MOVED, SECONDED BY COUNCILMEMBER ORVIS, THAT
    COUNCIL PRESIDENT DAWSON CALL AN EMERGENCY SESSION OF THE COUNCIL
    BEFORE 5:00 P.M. ON MONDAY, JUNE 5; STAFF TO BRING THE COUNCIL RISK OPTIONS
    AND BALLOT ITEMS TO CONSIDER.

    Council President Dawson commented it was not staff responsibility to develop possible items to be
    funded via a ballot measure. She objected to placing a measure on the ballot unless the Council felt those
    projects were desperately needed. She acknowledged there were road projects but staff had proposed a
    funding method that did not require a property tax increase. If that option was not possible, she could
    agree to ask the voters to increase their taxes to provide adequate funding, but at this time she was
    unwilling to ask the voters for a tax increase to fund these items. She reiterated the inability to quantify
    the level of risk to the City. She agreed with Councilmember Olson that the City purchased 5½ acres and
    were committed to developing a park for the community. She urged the community to be excited about
    that project and move forward with it.
    UPON ROLL CALL, MOTION FAILED (3-4), COUNCILMEMBERS ORVIS, MOORE AND
    PLUNKETT IN FAVOR; AND COUNCIL PRESIDENT DAWSON AND COUNCILMEMBERS
    MARIN, WAMBOLT, AND OLSON OPPOSED.
    Mayor Haakenson asked if the Council wanted to take a vote regarding whether to place a measure on the
    ballot. Council President Dawson referred to the School District’s indication that if the City did not
    present an offer by June 5, they would proceed accordingly. She concluded that was the will of the
    Council at this point and a further vote was unnecessary.

  19. Ron…I clearly state my comments in 22 above are my opinions. I didn’t say what is legal or not, just that I believe in general that a more detailed purpose should be announced. Doing so would promote better transparency . . . which is an option I wish this City would seize, voluntarily.

    Have you ever sat in Executive Session advertised with a purpose of “Pending Litigation” and wondered what exactly the pending litigation is?

  20. Ken:

    No, I have not sat in any exec session, including pending litigation, without knowing what was to be discussed because normally the relevant materials were provided to me in advance of the meeting.

    I have not actually done a count of the meetings, but my feeling is that there have been more exec sessions in the past 2 years than in the 4 yrs I was a council member.

  21. Thanks Ron, it does seem that Executive Session activity has increased the past two years, as well as length of sessions. I don’t have time to verify, so this is speculation on my behalf.

    Sorry if my question was unclear. My question was meant to address whether you have sat in Executive Session and wondered if the item discussed should be being discussed in open session, rather than in Executive Session.

    For example, the Executive Session on November 2, 2009 appears to have been conducted to discuss the removal of the Alley Vacation Reconsideration item from the Agenda that evening. Without more disclosure, the public can only guess.

    The Executive Session was advertised on that evening’s Council Agenda as:

    6:30 p.m. – Executive session regarding pending or threatened litigation.

    Please read the November 2, 2009 City Council Meeting Minutes. Interesting stuff, no action was anticipated to occur as a result of the Executive Session, yet . . . .

    How would anybody imagine that the Executive Session may have related to the Alley Vacation Reconsideration item on the Agenda that evening?

    70 or so citizens showed up that evening to support the Reconsideration, only to be disappointed when the Council emerged from Executive Session and immediately voted to remove the Alley Vacation Reconsideration item from that evening’s council agenda. A reasonable person would supect that removing the item from the Agenda was discussed in that evening’s Executive Session.

    There was no pending or threatened litigation related to the Reconsideration that I was aware of….two years later I still don’t know why the generic “litigation” purpose was used for that evening’s Executive session. I suspect it should not have been. I fear this generic “litigation” purpose is sometimes used improperly to justify going behind closed doors into Executive Session.

    Hopefully, future Executive Sessions will only be conducted for proper reasons.

  22. Ken:
    I’m sorry to weigh in so late on this important topic.
    Congratulations on your terrific analysis. As a member of ACE
    I would help get this out in any way I can. I just received my voters
    ballot and will hold it until we hear from all the candidates.
    If I understand you correctly we want all of the council members to
    voluntarily agree that minuets of executive sessions be posted
    for the public benefit. Bravo.
    Dave Page

  23. Hi Dave, thank you kindly for your positive comments and encouragement. To clarify, I have requested and request again the following specific commitment from those running for public office in Edmonds:

    “If elected or already elected as a public servant to the citizens of Edmonds, I will support the keeping of detailed minutes for all executive sessions. I will closely review the fourteen (14) reasons to conduct executive sessions that are documented in RCW 42.30.110. I will determine which of the fourteen (14) reasons do not require permanent confidentiality. Once those reasons are identified, I will work with my fellow elected officials to clearly establish the point in time the related executive session meeting minutes will be made available to the citizens of Edmonds.”

    Dave, I acknowledge that there are items discussed in Executive Session that do require Permanent Confidentaility. However, I believe there are many items discussed in Executive Session that do NOT require Permanent Confidentaility.

    I believe all citizens would benefit from the disclosure of the related Meeting Minutes when the reason for the Temporary Confidentiality has ended.

    Please encourage all candidates to make this commitment!

    I’d be honored to discuss with you and any other members of ACE at greater length. Please contact me at any time. Thanks again.

  24. Teresa, your twitter notes indicate that the Council voted last night to release certain executive session minutes, Do you have more specific details? If not, I’ll try and find out myself. Thanks.

    • Ken — the council action was to release page 2 of the minutes of the Oct. 18, 2005 executive session — I’ve requested a copy and will share when I receive it.

  25. I applaud the City Council for voting to waive the Attorney Client privilege related to page 2 of the October 18, 2005 Executive Session minutes. The Council’s action promotes Open Government and Transparency and I do appreciate that.

    I apologize in advance for detracting from the Council’s positive step, but I am disappointed that the entire October 18, 2005 Executive Session Minutes are not being released.

    The Agenda for the October 18, 2005 City Council meeting provided the following somewhat vague purpose for the Executive Session:

    6:30 p.m. – Executive Session regarding a real estate matter.

    Citizens have no way of knowing much about said real estate matter.

    The October 18, 2005 City Council meeting minutes provide little to no additional information as to the reason for that evening’s Executive Session:

    Following a Special Meeting at 6:30 p.m. for an Executive Session regarding a real estate matter, the Edmonds City Council meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. by Mayor Haakenson in the Council Chambers, 250 5th Avenue North, Edmonds.

    As I’ve stated before, I do not believe that the original intent of the attorney-client privilege was to keep Executive Session Minutes privileged and confidential years after the City had, for example, addressed a real estate matter.

    RCW 42.30.110 indicates that the reason for discussing Real Estate matters in Executive Session involves a concern that public knowledge regarding such consideration could possibly impact the related price or lease amounts, as follows:

    (b) To consider the selection of a site or the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price;

    (c) To consider the minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale or lease when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of decreased price. However, final action selling or leasing public property shall be taken in a meeting open to the public;

    It is hard to imagine 6 years later that public knowledge of this Real Estate matter and the related Executive Session Meeting minutes could possibly impact the related price or lease amounts.

    While I am very pleased that page 2 of the October 18, 2005 Executive Session minutes will be made available, I am naturally curious what is on page 1 and why is the Council not also making page 1 available.

    This is the crux of the issue. I believe State law is clear that the citizens do not give our public servants the right to decide what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know.

    I hope other citizens will join the effort to make the city of Edmonds the beacon for open government and transparency in the state of Washington.

    In the meantime, I eagerly await page 2 of the October 18, 2005 Executive Session minutes.

    Hopefully the City will provide Teresa a copy soon and she will post it promptly on MEN.

    I want to believe that this is a start, an important step toward improved open government and transparency in Edmonds.

  26. Thanks for posting both documents Teresa.

    Now that the citizens have more information about this real estate matter, it will be interesting to research that $250,000 appraisal value and the public purpose for the land purchased. I’d also like to determine what City Fund was used to purchase this land.

    I wish page 1 had also been made available for the citizens to review, as it appears to have contained much more information. It is hard to understand why it would still be redacted when the related real estate transaction closed in late 2005.

  27. Another interesting point related to the Executive Session Minutes is found at the top of Page 2:

    CONFIDENTIAL

    These minutes are not to be released to the public unless approved by the City Attorney.
    Per City Council Resolution No. 853.

    Resolution No. 853 predated 2001 and is not available on the City’s website, so I have not read it. However, it seems flawed in the premise that the City Attorney must APPROVE the release of the Executive Session Minutes to the public. I think the City Attorney’s role is merely to advise his client as to whether or not the client should APPROVE the release of the Executive Session Minutes to the public.

    When it comes to who has the authority to waive the attorney client privilege, it has been represented to me that the privilege is the client’s to waive, not the City Attorney’s. The Client owns the privilege.

    So . . . who exactly is the Client in the City Attorney relationship? Is it the Municipality as a whole? If so, the City of Edmonds’ organizational chart clearly establishes that the citizens of Edmonds are at the top of the City’s Organizational Chart. The Mayor, Municipal Court and City Council report directly to the citizens of Edmonds. This takes you right back to the concept that:

    The citizens of Edmonds, in delegating authority to the Mayor, Municipal Court and City Council, do not give our public servants the right to decide what is good for the citizens of Edmonds to know and what is not good for them to know.

    Assuming the municipality as a whole is the client, I am of the strong opinion that State of Washington law often requires the eventual release of Executive Session meeting minutes to the citizens.

  28. The City has kindly provided me a copy of City Council Resolution No. 853 signed by former Mayor Barbara S. Fahey on September 16, 1996.

    City Council Resolution No. 853 is fantastic, a great step towards Open Government and Transparency by our former elected officials. I recommend all current elected officials and candidates for office read it!

    As great as City Council Resolution No. 853 is, I am concerned because it contains the following statement:

    “Upon receipt of a written request for the release of Council minutes relating to any executive session, the City Clerk shall confer with the City Attorney and provide or deny release of such minutes in accordance with the provisions of state law.”

    I have seen public record requests for Executive Session Minutes returned to the citizen Redacted because the minutes are Attorney-client privileged. As the Attorney-client privilege is owned by the client, the City Attorney does not have the authority to deny release of executive session minutes because the minutes are Attorney-client privileged. That authority rests with the client. The City Attorney’s role is to provide legal advice, not to make the decision as to whether or not the Executive Session Minutes are released.

    CONFIDENTIAL

    These minutes are not to be released to the public unless approved by the City Attorney.

    Per City Council Resolution No. 853.

    Again, I think this statement is flawed in the premise that the City Attorney must APPROVE the release of the Executive Session Minutes to the public. I do not think the law allows the City Attorney to APPROVE or disapprove the release of the Executive Session Minutes to the public.

  29. City Council Resolution No. 853 also states the following:

    “Such minutes shall not be released pursuant to RCW 42.17.250 et seq for as long as the basis for the executive session as defined by RCW 42.30.110 exists.”

    I strongly believe that RCW 42.30.110 indicates that the reason, or basis for discussing Real Estate matters in Executive Session involves a concern that public knowledge regarding such consideration could possibly impact the related price or lease amounts.

    It is hard to imagine 6 years later that public knowledge of the Real Estate matter discussed in Executive Session on October 18, 2005 could possibly impact the related price or lease amounts. The Statutory Warranty Deed related to this transaction was executed exactly 6 years ago yesterday.

    While I am very pleased that page 2 of the October 18, 2005 Executive Session minutes have been made available, I am naturally curious what is on page 1 and why page 1 is still not being provided without Redaction. I sincerely hope the City will release page 1 soon.

  30. Thanks for posting Resolution 853 Teresa. I hope citizens, candidates, elected officials and City Staff will take a couple quick minutes to read it as it is a very admirable and powerful Resolution. It also makes my specific request from the current candidates for office easier to commit to as Resolution 853 is an important first step towards a more Open and Transparent Government.

    As a reminder, following is my specific request:

    If elected, I will support the keeping of detailed minutes for all executive sessions. I will closely review the 14 reasons to conduct executive sessions that are documented in RCW 42.30.110. I will determine which of the fourteen reasons do not require permanent confidentiality. Once those reasons are identified, I will work with my fellow elected officials to clearly establish the point in time the related executive session meeting minutes will be made available to the citizens of Edmonds.

    My specific request does not require much more than Resolution 853. I’m asking for detailed minutes instead of summary minutes. Resolution 853 already states that such summary minutes shall not be released for as long as the BASIS for the executive session as defined by RCW 42.30.110 exists. All I am requesting is that the City Council review the 14 reasons (BASIS) for Executive Sessions and establish the point in time the related executive session meeting minutes will be made available to the citizens of Edmonds . . . in the situations that do not require Permanent Confidentiality.

    At a time where public trust in City Government seems to have been impaired, I’m puzzled why more candidates are not willing to make this specific commitment, or a concrete, specific commitment in their own words. I hope more will do so.

    The public comments above document which candidates have responded to my specific request.

  31. Under State Law, the City Council MAY meet in Executive Session to CONSIDER purchasing real property ONLY “when PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of INCREASED price.”

    The public had knowledge that the City was considering purchasing the real property on Main Street across from the Driftwood Theatre. The property owner had sent a letter to the Hearing Examiner dated September 28, 2005 requesting that Variance Hearing V-05-68 be postponed until October 27, 2005 in order to entertain an offer by the City of Edmonds to purchase the subject property.

    The matter was discussed in open public session during the October 4, 2005 City Council Meeting. The October 4, 2005 meeting minutes indicate that the property owner was in negotiations with the City for the City to purchase the property.

    A strong argument can be made that the City Council did not have a legal reason to meet in Executive Session on October 18, 2005 to discuss this real property purchase. I believe the discussion should have taken place in Open Session as the public already had knowledge of the potential purchase!

    Yet, the City continues to claim Attorney Client privilege and redact Page 1 of the October 18, 2005 Executive Session minutes related to a $200,000 real estate purchase which closed over 6 YEARS ago.

    I encourage the City to show its citizens that it supports Open Government and Transparency by releasing Page 1 of the October 18, 2005 Executive Session minutes at its earliest convenience.

  32. Related to my post #15 above, I totally understand our City Council has much going on, including preparation for next week’s annual City Council Retreat.

    One thing I will point out is the enormous value of detailed documentation related to Council Meetings, which include Committee Meetings as well as Executive Sessions. Without a record of some type, the City officials would simply be left with the individual memories of those that attended Committee Meetings and Executive Sessions. I am of the opinion that people often remember things differently, and that memories fade as time passes. I am thankful we have Committee Meeting Minutes to refer to. Executive Sessions minutes are also kept at this point in time under City Council Resolution No. 853, passed in 1996. I hope this minute keeping will continue, or possibly even be improved upon. However, I fear that there are some City Officials who would prefer not keeping a record of Executive Sessions.

    I believe Executive Sessions are far too critical to simply subject to people’s individual memories of what took place behind closed doors away from the public’s eye. I continue to support detailed record keeping of all Executive Sessions.

LEAVE A REPLY