BI leaders need to change meetings

Bainbridge Island City Council, the school board and the parks commission could all make their meetings a little friendlier for the public with some simple changes.

Most government agencies have executive sessions at the end of meetings. So why doesn’t the BI council?

Executive sessions can be called when the government body is discussing things like real estate, personnel and other issues that do not have to take place in public, according to the state Public Meetings Act.

On BI, government bodies like the school board and parks district have their executive sessions at the end of meetings. That works best for the public because it can attend the meeting, find out about public information and then go home.

With the City Council, however, executive sessions take place prior to the regular meeting. That is a problem because visitors have to wait sometimes for an hour or so before the public meeting even starts. The city might say it’s only going to be in executive session for 2o minutes but then often extends it a time or two.

That makes the council meetings frustrating, especially when they go on for hours, although they have become shorter since Blair King became city manager. It’s inconvenient for the public to keep having to check back over and over to see when the executive session is over. And it means the regular meetings can last late into the night when the public might want to do other things.

Government needs to do whatever it can to make it as convenient as possible for people to participate in the public process. When it doesn’t, it leads to mistrust.

The council needs to move its executive sessions to after the regular meeting.

In a related matter, taking public comments should also be made as easy as possible. The parks district does it best, allowing public comment often while issues are being discussed. Sometimes board members will even respond, which is important to clear up any issues. The City Council does have public comments at the beginning and also during the meeting at public hearings. But it doesn’t try to clear up any misconceptions.

But the school board is the one with issues here, requiring that people register to talk during the public comment period by 4 p.m. the day of the meeting.

While that might make it easier for the board, it’s not for the public. If the public wants to talk, let it talk. It pays for everything government does through taxes. If someone comes to a meeting or attends online let them speak. It can’t be a free for all. There needs to be time limits and certain times to talk to be organized. But the public deserves to weigh in on all things government.

The school board needs to change that practice, and the parks district, which is considering that process, needs to throw out that idea.

Finally, the public also deserves access to public documents. The City Council and school district do a good job of that. But the parks district also needs to have its documents available when it publishes its agenda. Without that information, the public does not have the detail it needs to be informed in its participation.

For example, the parks district did not have budget documents available at a recent meeting. There is nothing more basic to government than letting the public know about its spending.

The commission asked for public input but without the documents that was impossible. The audience was told that budget information would be available after the meeting on the parks website, but also was told that would be too late for the public to have input because the budget already would have been passed.

That is unacceptable. Parks needs to have that information available beforehand, just like the city and schools do.

Bainbridge Island is very interested in its government. Just look at our Letters to the Editor, and you’ll have proof of that. So local government needs to make sure it does all it can to work well with the public, or face the consequences during elections.

Bus to games

Bainbridge Island, and North Kitsap in general, are concerned about the environment. They both think out of the box and are willing to do almost anything to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. BI is even looking at buying electric tools for the city. North Kitsap in general is moving toward electric buses and ferries.

But one thing we haven’t heard anyone talking about relates to schools. The idea came to mind when thinking about all the people traveling on the roads in their individual cars going to district and state playoff games in football, volleyball, soccer, swimming, water polo, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if all those vehicles could be taken off the road to not only cut back on gas emissions but also lessen gridlock, too? How could we make that happen?

Mass transit of course. It would take some work, of course, in planning, but it could be done.

It just seems like with all the efforts planned in the future in BI and North Kitsap this would be a way to make a difference now – especially if it caught on across the country. And isn’t that what locals are hoping for with many of their other planned projects, too?