Island County commissioners plan night meetings
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
March 1, 2013 · Updated 2:58 PM
As soon as this month, one of Island County’s weekly board meetings will be held during the evening.
According to Commission Chairwoman Helen Price Johnson, there is board agreement to start the commissioner’s fourth Monday meeting of the month at 6 p.m. It currently begins at 2 p.m.
The idea is to facilitate community input by providing more options for residents who may not be able to get to board’s daytime meetings, most of which begin in the morning.
Additional discussion is required to hammer out some of the details and that will happen at the board’s next Wednesday work session, March 6. Once complete, the board will then hold a public hearing and take officials action.
Board Clerk Elaine Marlow said the soonest the change would go into effect is this month, but it may not begin until April.
The change will be a victory for Commissioner Kelly Emerson, advocated for a nighttime meeting since July 2011.
Those early efforts didn’t move forward, but Emerson made another appeal this past January, which gained more traction with members of the board.
“I’m happy were going to finally establish one evening meeting a month,” Emerson said.
“Hopefully, this will make it easier for people to come down and partake in local government,” she said.
In 2011, Price Johnson said she was wary of the change as it would result in additional costs to the cash-strapped county. Some county department heads reinforced those concerns at a roundtable discussion with the board this week when they reported the change would result in overtime expenses for some employees.
Price Johnson said the cost is something the board needs to be mindful of and that she was hopeful that nighttime meetings could be implemented gradually so expenses could be monitored.
She’s not going to stand in the way of the change, however.
“I think there is a value in having an evening meeting,” she said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the commissioners will discuss other potential modifications to the code. Particularly, whether or not to soften current language that says public hearings should be held at night “when possible.”
To come more into line with the existing rule, the new evening meeting would need to include day-to-day items, such as amendments to various contracts and franchise agreements.
That can be pretty dry material, said Price Johnson, and would take up much of the evening meeting. The idea is to engage the public, not bore them.
A code modification is being considered that only public hearings of “significant impact” should be held during the evening meetings.
Lastly, interest was expressed by board members to begin holding quarterly town hall-style meetings. That wouldn’t require a code change and will likely move forward with unanimous support.
“This board has stated this is something important to them so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that move forward,” Price Johnson said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.