Harbor Square group should meet in the open

  • Evan Smith<br>Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:56am

The group chosen to make recommendations for the Harbor Square area should hold its meetings in public.

Any recommendations to the Edmonds City Council and the Edmonds Port Commission will lead to discussion and action in public meetings, but we will never know the backroom deals that led to those recommendations.

The city council often acts on recommendations from the planning commission and the parks board; so those bodies have to meet in public. Shouldn’t a group that will make recommendations to two public bodies do its work in public?

Yet a story in this paper three weeks ago said that the committee was organizing its meetings so they never include a majority of the members of either the city council or the Port Commission. That way, public meetings laws don’t apply.

Port Executive Director Chris Keuss wrote in this space two weeks ago that public opinion on the project is important. If that’s true, shouldn’t citizens who aren’t on the handpicked committee get a chance to hear what the group is doing and to have a chance to give the committee their opinions?

Even though the city and the port cover a large share of its budget, the committee is under no legal obligation to follow open meetings laws, but, since their decisions will affect public policy and public expenditures, they should meet in public.

Some will argue that committee members can speak more frankly when the press and public aren’t listening, but frank discussion in public can lead to the best public decisions.

Of course, many members of the committee are private entrepreneurs, accustomed to making decisions privately, but, if they want to influence public policy and the spending of public money, they need to get used to making their discussions public.

More school board candidates this year

Two years ago, fewer than 15 percent of the school board members elected in King and Snohomish counties had opponents. That meant there was almost no public debate on school issues.

The outlook for public debate is better this year with contests for 40 percent of the positions. Thirteen percent of the positions have three or more candidates, forcing primaries in August to narrow the fields for November.

Controversies in Edmonds and other districts have brought out candidates.

In Edmonds, there will again be contests for two of the three positions on the ballot, with a primary in the one position with four candidates.

This year’s contests will mean candidate forums for both the primary and the general election. A retired longtime school board member once told me that he liked having opponents because it forced him to discuss school policies in public settings.

Evan Smith is the Enterprise Forum editor. Send comments to entopinion@heraldnet.com.

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