Step into the light, city of Bainbridge Island.
Bainbridge city officials were given clear direction this week by their city attorney: Work needs to be done to bring the city into compliance with the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
The biggest problem: The city’s Utility Advisory Committee, which has been working under the assumption since last year that it didn’t have to abide by the Open Public Meetings Act, the state’s paramount public access law that requires the public’s business to be done in public.
Councilwoman Sarah Blossom, who serves as an ex-officio member of the UAC, admitted at this week’s council meeting that, based on previous legal advice, she had told committee members they weren’t bound to follow the state’s law on open meetings.
That’s not the case, Jim Haney, an attorney for the city, said this week.
And what’s more, the UAC has to meet in public anyway, he said, because the ordinance that created the UAC specifically says the committee’s meetings must be open to the public.
Haney also told the council they had the option of changing the roles and operations of its advisory committees so they don’t have to comply with the law that requires open meetings, and there was also the option of changing the city ordinance that specifically requires the UAC to have public meetings.
Both are bad ideas. City council members should avoid the temptation of putting discussions of the public’s business behind closed doors.
Instead, the city’s energy should be spent on maintaining and improving public access to the meetings of its advisory bodies — and, might we add, meetings of council committees, as well.
Instead of looking for ways to avoid open government laws, or seeking to minimize the application of those laws, city officials should embrace the spirit of transparency and good government that guided the creation of open meetings and records laws in the first place here in Washington state. Bainbridge Island government, including its elected and appointed officials, should operate in the sunshine, and not the darkness.