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.