Why not let the public in | Editorial
April 3, 2012 · Updated 1:58 PM
The position of director of the North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District is an important one, paid for entirely with public funds, and yet the elected commissioners are being entirely too secretive in the hiring process.
Craig Carlson, who recently retired from the position, is an excellent example of the importance of the position. Before he was hired, the parks district board was in disarray and as a result the district employees were unhappy. It didn’t take long after Carlson’s hiring that things began to change. The pool was operated more efficiently and more creatively. Employees quit complaining. District board meetings became somewhat more congenial, thanks in part to Carlson’s presence.
With Carlson gone, the thousands of people who use the pool are concerned and curious about who will be chosen as his successor. The district has advertised the position and reduced the number of applicants to six finalists. And there’s the rub.
The names of the finalists are not being released and interviews will be conducted in secret sessions over two days, April 11 and 12. Finally, the elected commissioners will convene in public session to do the hiring in what is likely to be a foregone conclusion.
The commissioners may be meeting the letter of the law, as there is no requirement for public interviews or presentations by finalists for non-elective positions. But there is also no requirement that the names of the finalists be kept secret, as if it were a matter of national security.
The parks board should emulate local school districts, who hire new directors, called superintendents, in a public way. A few finalists have their names made public, are introduced to interest groups such as parents and teachers, and then interviewed in private. Finally, the school board meets publicly to hire someone for the position. Coupeville School District Superintendent Patty Page recently went through such a process, and came out the winner. The fact her name was publicly known was not damaging in the least.
It’s not too late for the parks board to make amends. Tell the six candidates they will be introduced at a public meeting before the executive session interviews. Let the public ask questions. There’s no need to make this a secretive process, so don’t do it. If some of the six don’t want their names publicized, just say goodbye.
When elected officials do as much as legally possible in private, they lose the public’s respect. The North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District has worked years to restore its reputation. Don’t blow it now.