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 [email protected] 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.