Edmonds Councilmembers should be prepared to show their work

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By Joan Bloom

In high school, when we were taking a math test, our teachers required us to show our work. It wasn’t enough to arrive at a conclusion, we had to map our thought process and calculations that demonstrated how we got to that conclusion. As City Councilmembers, we should do no less.

To a large degree, the Tuesday-scheduled Council meetings fulfill the requirements to show our work, but executive sessions, which are held behind closed doors, not so much. The State of Washington allows city councils to hold executive sessions for only specific issues — mostly those related to real estate purchase, potential litigation, and personnel. Furthermore, city councils are required to make that information that needed to be private, but no longer does (such as a settled lawsuit), open to public-records requests.

Currently, our City Council, the Mayor and City Attorney are grappling with the details of moving once-private discussions to public scrutiny. In 1996, the Edmonds City Council voted (City Resolution 853) to require the taking of minutes at executive sessions. At the Council retreat on Feb. 2, 2012, we had a contentious discussion about whether or not we should continue to take minutes. We were advised by our city attorney that, if we chose to continue to take minutes, we should also record the sessions, and Council should approve the final version of the minutes. Another option was to stop all documentation of the sessions.

I strongly support the taking of minutes, and the recording of the executive sessions. Citizens must be able to trust that Council is holding executive sessions for only the reasons stated in Washington State Code. They must also be able to trust that, should they have questions in the future about a particular executive session and wish to make a public records request, there will be documentation of the sessions (subject to limitations of the law) available for their review.

Council will be discussing executive sessions in a March Council meeting. I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, consider expressing your opinion on this issue to all your council members by sending an email to Spellman@ci.edmonds.wa.gov. Ask us to show our work.

A discussion of the issues can be found following Harry Gatjen’s article on the Council retreat.

Joan Bloom was elected to the Edmonds City Council in November 2011.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Joan:
    I agree with your opinion about executive sessions. Additionally, in keeping with a practice of showing their work, when council members vote in open council sessions they should state why they are voting the way they have chosen to.

  2. Joan,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts here. Your approach to being a council member and representing citizens is very refreshing.

  3. Thanks Joan for promoting Open Government and Transparency in Edmonds. I also appreciate Ron’s idea stated above that “when council members vote in open council sessions they should state why they are voting the way they have chosen to.” This is an interesting idea that I hope the Council will further explore and discuss.

    The Spokesman Review has published an excellent Editorial titled:

    No excuses left: Record all executive sessions

    In the Editorial, the Spokesman Review opines that government bodies should be compelled to record their executive sessions, so that violations of the Open Public Meetings Act can be flagged. The Editorial confirms that Senate Bill 6109, which passed by a vote of 39-9,was introduced at the behest of the attorney general and the state auditor to grant an exemption to the Public Records Act for executive session recordings. The Editorial suggests that if government bodies still don’t record their executive sessions, then they have some explaining to do, because this bill eliminates their chief concern. The Editorial states that the concern that illegal private conversations are taking place is legitimate as the state auditor has found hundreds of violations of the open-meetings law over the years.

    The Editorial concludes that if this bill becomes law, public officials should voluntarily record their executive sessions. If they don’t, the Spokesman Review thinks the attorney general and state auditor should return to Olympia with a request that recording executive sessions be mandatory.

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